September 9, 2015 - GMOs, Herbicides, and Public Health


GMOs, Herbicides, and Public Health

Wednesday, September 9, 2015 - Most physicians are more worried about possible direct threats to human health such as biolfarmogic weapons or the implications of new technologies for editing the human germline than they are about the insidious but growing threat of agricultural biotechnology.

According to an article by Philip J. Landrigan, M.D., and Charles Benbrook, Ph.D in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine, two recent developments are dramatically changing the GMO landscape.

The sharp increases in herbicide resistance have led to astounding increases in the amounts and numbers of chemical herbicides applied to GM crops, and still further increases — the largest in a generation — are scheduled to occur in the next few years as the newly approved Enlist Duo (a combination of glyphosate plus 2,4-D) enters the market.

In the United States, glyphosate use has increased by a factor of more than 250 — from 0.4 million kg in 1974 to 113 million kg in 2014. Global use has increased by a factor of more than 10. Not surprisingly, glyphosate-resistant weeds have emerged and are found today on nearly 100 million acres in 36 states. Fields must now be treated with multiple herbicides, including 2,4-D, a component of the Agent Orange defoliant used in the Vietnam War.

In 2015, the IARC listed glyphosate as a “probable human carcinogen” and 2,4-D 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. And unlike regulatory bodies in 64 other countries, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not require labeling of GM foods.

The authors made the following recommendations:

  • The hasty decision to permit use of Enlist Duo, which was based on poorly designed
    and outdated studies, should be delayed.
  • The National Toxicology Program should urgently assess the toxicology of pure
    glyphosate, formulated glyphosate, and mixtures of glyphosate and other herbicides
    and adjuvants.
  • FDA should reconsider labeling of GM foods and couple it with adequately funded,
    long-term post-marketing surveillance.

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