Human Exposure to Glyphosate Has Skyrocketed 500% Since Introduction of GMO Crops
Glyphosate—the most widely applied herbicide worldwide and the controversial main ingredient in Monsanto's star product Roundup—is not just found on corn and soy fields. This pervasive chemical can be detected in everyday foods such as cookies, crackers, ice cream and even our own urine.
In fact, researchers from the University of California San Diego School of Medicine found that human exposure to glyphosate has increased approximately 500 percent since 1994, when Monsanto introduced its genetically modified (GMO) Roundup Ready crops in the United States.
"Our exposure to these chemicals has increased significantly over the years but most people are unaware that they are consuming them through their diet," said Paul J. Mills, PhD, UC San Diego School of Medicine professor of Family Medicine and Public Health and director of the Center of Excellence for Research and Training in Integrative Health.
For the study, published Tuesday in JAMA, the research team analyzed the urine excretion levels of glyphosate and aminomethylphosphonic acid (AMPA) in 100 people from a Southern California community over five clinic visits between 1993 to 1996 and 2014 to 2016. AMPA is one of the primary degradation products of glyphosate.
"The data compares excretion levels of glyphosate and its metabolite aminomethylphosphonic acid in the human body over a 23-year time span, starting in 1993, just before the introduction of genetically modified crops into the United States," Mills explained.
"What we saw was that prior to the introduction of genetically modified foods, very few people had detectable levels of glyphosate. As of 2016, 70 percent of the study cohort had detectable levels."
Of study participants with detectable levels of these chemicals, the mean level of glyphosate increased from 0.203 micrograms per liter in 1993-1996 to 0.449 micrograms per liter in 2014-2016. For AMPA, the mean level increased from 0.168 micrograms per liter in 1993-1996 to 0.401 micrograms per liter in 2014 to 2016.
The controversy surrounding glyphosate started in 2015 when the World Health Organization's cancer assessment arm classified glyphosate as "probably carcinogenic to humans." California also listed glyphosate as a carcinogen in July. And just yesterday, the European Parliament, representing 28 countries and more than 500 million people, voted in support of phasing out glyphosate over the next five years and immediately banning its use in households.
European Parliament Votes to Ban #Glyphosate in 28 Countries https://t.co/7Mn53Ku9y6 @foodandwater @GMWatch @OrganicConsumer @foe_us @350— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1508867380.0
Monsanto has adamantly defended the safety of its product and denies it causes cancer. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) also considers it safe for use. Europe's food safety authority (EFSA) also concluded that glyphosate does not cause cancer.
Additionally, Consumer Reports noted that the concentrations that the researchers measured were far below the EPA's daily exposure limit of 1.75 mg/kg and the European Union's limit of 0.3 mg/kg.
"Unfortunately, it is difficult to know what these levels in our bodies mean for our health risks, since the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has failed to conduct a proper risk assessment for glyphosate that includes the aggregate of all our glyphosate exposures—as required by law—from food, drinking water, and residential uses of the herbicide. Even worse—federal agencies don't even know how much glyphosate is in our food and drinking water because glyphosate has never been included in the federal pesticide residue testing program. This is completely outrageous given that it is used at approximately 300 billion pounds annually in U.S. agriculture, including on food crops like corn and soybeans. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has only recently started to test for residues of glyphosate in common foods, and only after tremendous public pressure."
Monsanto has also come under heavy scrutiny over reports that EFSA lifted text from the company's glyphosate renewal application. Documents also suggest Monsanto employees had ghostwritten safety reviews to cover up glyphosate's health risks. The agritech giant is facing more than 250 lawsuits from plaintiffs alleging that they or their loved ones developed non-Hodgkin lymphoma due to exposure to Roundup.
Mills recommended more studies on the human health impact on the increasing exposure to glyphosate from food.
“The public needs to be better informed of the potential risks of the numerous herbicides sprayed onto our food supply so that we can make educated decisions on when we need to reduce or eliminate exposure to potentially harmful compounds," he said.
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It's going to be back-to-school time soon, but will children go into the classrooms?
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) thinks so, but only as long as safety measures are in place.
Keeping Schools Safe<p>What will safer schools look like?</p><p>In a <a href="https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/2766822" target="_blank">JAMA article</a> published last month, <a href="https://www.jhsph.edu/faculty/directory/profile/1781/joshua-m-sharfstein" target="_blank">Dr. Joshua Sharfstein</a>, a pediatrician and professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, outlined suggestions — many of which are similar to AAP's.</p><p>Remote learning protocols must stay in place, especially as some schools stagger home and in-building learning. If another shutdown needs to occur, children will rely on distance learning completely, so it must be easy to switch to, he said.</p><p>He suggested giving parents a daily checklist to document their child's health. Kids should be screened quickly on arrival and be given hygiene supplies. Maintenance staff should use appropriate PPE and have regular cleaning schedules. A notification system should be in place if a case is identified, Sharfstein recommended.</p><p><a href="https://www.albany.edu/rockefeller/faculty/erika-martin" target="_blank">Erika Martin</a>, PhD, an associate professor of public administration and policy at University at Albany, said nutrition assistance and health services should be included. She called for tutoring programs with virtual options as well as technology access.</p>
Supporting Staff<p>Teachers and staff will be affected by safeguarding measures, noted <a href="https://directory.sph.umn.edu/bio/sph-a-z/rachel-widome" target="_blank">Rachel Widome</a>, PhD, an associate professor of epidemiology and community health at University of Minnesota.</p><p>"In order for all of the in-school precautions to work well, we'll be asking a lot of teachers and staff," Widome told Healthline. In addition to their usual workload, they'll now be asked to monitor mask-wearing, ensure children are keeping distance, and be aware of any symptoms.</p><p>Along with Sharfstein, Widome called for an increase in financial support. More employees will likely be required so teachers and staff members can keep up with the added demands.</p>
Should Kids Go Back?<p>While these guidelines may help get some schools to reopen, many people don't think children should go back to school over fears they could contract the disease and spread it to other vulnerable family members like grandparents, infant siblings, or their parents.</p><p>In a <a href="https://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/early/2020/07/08/peds.2020-004879" target="_blank">Pediatrics</a> commentary, <a href="https://www.md.com/doctor/william-raszka-md" target="_blank">Dr. William V. Raszka, Jr.</a>, an infectious disease specialist at The University of Vermont Medical Center, argued that schools should open because school-aged children are far less important drivers of COVID-19 than adults.</p><p>But he says the risk and benefit is not equal among all students ages 5 to 18.</p><p>"Elementary schools are arguably higher priority for face-to-face schooling, since younger children are at lower risk for infection and transmission, and since parental supervision of younger children's distance learning may be particularly challenging," added Sorensen, who penned a <a href="https://jamanetwork.com/channels/health-forum/fullarticle/2767411" target="_blank">June article in JAMA</a> with reopening tips. "That means middle and high schools are more likely to emphasize distance learning."</p><p>Specific student populations, such as special education students and students with disabilities, would also benefit greatly from more time spent in face-to-face environments, Sorensen said.</p>
What Parents Can Do<p>Parents should ask for and receive frequent updates from schools about plans for the fall. They should also be informed about plans if and when COVID infections are identified, Sharfstein said.</p><p>"I'd like to see parents investing now, during the summer, in doing things that can slow and stop the spread of the virus in their communities," Widome said.</p><p>"Now is a good time for kids to practice wearing masks and get used to them as they may be wearing them for longer stretches if school starts up in person," Widome suggested.</p><p>She recommends parents try different mask designs and materials to see what children are more comfortable wearing.</p><p>"If you are using cloth face coverings, it's good to have extras on hand," Widome added.</p><p>Parents should model healthy behavior at home and while out in public — another thing that could affect how well children adapt to reopening practices, Sorensen said.</p><p>"Children may want to know more about face coverings," added <a href="https://www.linkedin.com/in/leescott/" target="_blank">Lee Scott</a>, chairwoman of the Educational Advisory Board at <a href="https://www.goddardschool.com/" target="_blank">The Goddard School</a>. "Dramatic play, such as creating or wearing a face covering, may help some children adjust to this concept." Schools can also show children photos of what faculty members look like in their masks so the students are familiar with that appearance.</p><p>Johns Hopkins University recently released its eSchool+ Initiative, a slew of resources surrounding education during the pandemic. These include a <a href="https://equityschoolplus.jhu.edu/reopening-checklist/" target="_blank">checklist for administrators</a>, report on <a href="https://equityschoolplus.jhu.edu/ethics-of-reopening/" target="_blank">ethical considerations</a>, and a tracker of <a href="https://equityschoolplus.jhu.edu/reopening-policy-tracker/" target="_blank">state and local reopening plans</a>.</p>
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