US Scientists Stress the Health Dangers of Herbicides Used with GMOs


Dear Friends and Colleagues

US Scientists Stress the Health Dangers of Herbicides Used with GMOs

Two scientists in the U.S. have published an opinion piece in the New England Journal of Medicine, on GMOs (genetically modified organisms), herbicides and public health. Herbicide resistance is the main GM trait for plants. Corn and soybeans genetically engineered to resist glyphosate (Roundup) were introduced in the mid-1990s and these “Roundup-Ready” crops now account for more than 90% of the corn and soybeans planted in the U.S. Along with this, glyphosate use increased by more than 250 times, from 0.4 million kg in 1974 to 113 million kg in 2014. Glyphosate-resistant weeds are now found on nearly 100 million acres in 36 states. Farmers have to resort to using stronger herbicides. Residues of glyphosate have been detected in food and water.

The scientists point to two developments which are dramatically changing the GM landscape, stating that “the time has therefore come to thoroughly reconsider all aspects of the safety of plant biotechnology”. The first is the sharp increase in the amounts and numbers of chemical herbicides applied to GM crops with further increases scheduled to occur in the next few years, especially with the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) recent approval of Enlist Duo, a new combination herbicide comprising glyphosate and 2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4-D, a component of the Agent Orange defoliant used in the Vietnam War) which will be sold with newly approved GM seeds resistant to these herbicides and others.

Secondly, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has classified glyphosate, the herbicide most widely used on GM crops, as a “probable human carcinogen” and 2,4-D as a “possible human carcinogen”. This suggests that GM foods and the herbicides applied to them may pose hazards to human health that were not examined in previous assessments.

The scientists call on the EPA to delay the implementation of its approval of Enlist Duo which they argue was based on outdated studies and a flawed risk assessment, and for the National Toxicology Program to urgently assess the toxicology of pure glyphosate, formulated glyphosate, and mixtures of glyphosate and other herbicides. They also call on the FDA to overturn its stand not to label GM foods and couple it with adequately funded, long-term post-marketing surveillance.

A news article on the article is appended below. The full article can be viewed at:

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Carey Gillam

U.S. regulators have relied on flawed and outdated research to allow expanded use of an herbicide linked to cancer, and new assessments should be urgently conducted, according to a column published in the New England Journal of Medicine on Wednesday. 

There are two key factors that necessitate regulatory action to protect human health, according to the column: a sharp increase in herbicide applied to widely planted genetically modified (GMO) crops used in food, and a recent World Health Organization (WHO) determination that the most commonly used herbicide, known as glyphosate, is probably a human carcinogen.


The opinion piece was written by Dr. Philip Landrigan, a Harvard-educated pediatrician and epidemiologist who is Dean for Global Health at the Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York, and Chuck Benbrook, an adjunct professor at Washington State University’s crops and soil science department.


“There is growing evidence that glyphosate is geno-toxic and has adverse effects on cells in a number of different ways,” Benbrook said. “It’s time to pull back … on uses of glyphosate that we know are leading to significant human exposures while the science gets sorted out.”


The column argues that GMO foods and herbicides applied to them “may pose hazards to human health” not previously assessed.


“We believe that the time has therefore come to thoroughly reconsider all aspects of the safety of plant biotechnology,” the column states.


The authors also argue that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has erred in recently approving a new herbicide that uses glyphosate because it relied on outdated studies commissioned by the manufacturers and gave little consideration to potential health effects in children.


Glyphosate is best known as the key ingredient in Roundup developed by Monsanto Co, one of the world’s most widely used herbicides, but it is used in more than 700 products.


It is sprayed directly over crops like corn genetically engineered to tolerate it and is sometimes used on non-GMO crops, like wheat before harvest. Residues of glyphosate have been detected in food and water.


The WHO’s cancer research unit after reviewing years of scientific research from different countries on March 20 classified glyphosate as “probably carcinogenic to humans.”

But regulators and agrichemical companies in the United States and other countries still consider glyphosate among the safest herbicides in use.


In July, Monsanto said it had arranged for an outside scientific review of the WHO finding.

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