The dose doesn’t make the poison

8 May, 2014

Question: How many government officials does it take to make sensible decisions about pesticide regulation?

Answer: Nobody knows, because it’s never been done.

Anybody who follows the pesticide news trail will be aware of the recent report from the US that traces of glyphosate – which since the introduction of GMO crops has become the world’s most widely used herbicide – have been found in samples of breastmilk.

This was not a scientific study but a small survey by a group called Mom’s Across America. Nevertheless, the fact that ANY glyphosate was found in breastmilk is worrying because we have always been told that this compound doesn’t accumulate in the body (and indeed our sister site Citizens Concerned About GM  was one of the first to highlight this point).

If it is accumulating in breastmilk not only is it a danger to mothers, but it is being passed on to their babies as well with potential consequences for their developmental and reproductive health.

The results got a lot of play on social media, but the mainstream press didn’t do much with the story.

Maybe the press didn’t get it. But industry did and the Glyphosate Task Force (no, I’m not kidding) immediately swung into action.

The Glyphosate Task Force, or GTF, is a consortium of companies which have combined their resources to ensure that glyphosate’s European licence is renewed when it runs out in 2015.

Team Glyphosate (I’m guessing they have hats and everything) were quick to counter the calls for a ban, proclaiming that the levels of this ‘safe’ herbicide found in breastmilk were so low as to be of no concern.

And here’s where any observant journalist should be sitting up, in the full awareness that something big has just happened.

Glyphosate is an hormone disrupter which means it produces toxic effects as very low doses, but may not necessarily produce the same toxic effects at higher doses.

This is a hallmark of hormone disrupting chemicals; the dose DOES NOT make the poison. This is a toxicological truth known for decades. What is more these low doses can cause toxic effects that can play out over generations, passed from mother to child to grandchild.

It was a key finding of the divisive Séralini study of 2012. In that study too, the rats were getting doses of glyphosate (according to scientists I have spoken with) many thousands of times lower than the so-called ‘safe’ dose, or Allowable Daily Intake (ADI). And yet they still showed signs of toxicity as well as diseases that were consistent with hormone disruption.

What we need now is a follow-up study to put the GTF back in its box.

It can’t come quickly enough because across the pond things are heating up on the GMO/toxic pesticide front as well. It’s not just glyphosate that we need to be concerned with.

This week the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced it is set to approve the use of 2,4-D –  the notorious defoliant which was a key ingredient in Agent Orange – on GMO crops that have become resistant to glyphosate. The approval is as stark and unapologetic a statement about the US commitment to GMO crops as can be.

How often have you seen this scenario played out, whether in medicine or agriculture. When bacteria, for example, become resistant to antibiotics, medicine’s answer is more and bigger and more powerful antibiotics. No thought is given to looking at the root cause of the problem: the gross and irresponsible overuse of these substances.

The same is true in farming. Overuse of glyphosate on GMO crops has bred a new generation of superweeds, resistant to its effects. Regulators answer to that is more and bigger and more powerful herbicides.

I’m sure there is a Team 2,4-D somewhere in the US reassuring everyone that 2,4-D is already used on golf courses, playgrounds, gardens and on non-GMO crops, so its use on GMO agriculture  is a mere formality.

It’s true that 2,4-D, which is also an endocrine disrupter, is already the third most widely used herbicide in the US. Can you imagine how much more widespread its use will become – and how many more people will be poisoned – once they start spraying it on vast fields of GMO crops?

In 2008 the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) petitioned the EPA to have all so-called ‘safe-dose’ claims for 2,4-D abolished since they had no relevance to low-dose hormone disrupters. That petition was ignored until 2012 when the NRDC filed a lawsuit against the Agency for failing to respond. Then the petition was denied.

The petition highlighted the  legal nonsense of the ADI which gives permission for toxic chemicals to be present in our food, water, toiletries and more.

Think of the ADI as an RDA for carcinogens and other toxic exposures. The conflation with vitamins is, I suspect, deliberate. It’s meant to put us all at ease that someone smarter than us has done the maths for us. Don’t be fooled.

Increasingly it is becoming obvious that the formulae used to conjure up ADIs are industry-sponsored fantasies that misrepresent toxicology, ignore real world exposures and don’t even try to keep up with the rapidly evolving science.

It’s time to face facts. The only truly safe dose of a poison is no dose at all.

Pat Thomas, Editor