A brilliant and celebrated inventor, John Franz, gave us an herbicide, Roundup, which has changed the face of agriculture. This herbicide has become the foundation for an entirely novel approach to farming – biotech agriculture – that has expanded rapidly throughout the globe.
Monsanto makes seeds for soy, corn, canola, cotton, alfalfa and sugar beets that are genetically engineered to be tolerant to Roundup. The seeds are marketed in 120 countries. Throughout the world, Roundup is sprayed heavily as a weed killer without fear of damaging the cash crops, which have been engineered to survive the herbicide’s effects.
“The change in how agriculture is produced has brought, frankly, a change in the profile of diseases. We’ve gone from a pretty healthy population to one with a high rate of cancer, birth defects and illnesses seldom seen before.”
Roundup seemed, at first, to be the perfect herbicide. It blocks the ESPS synthase enzyme, which prevents the synthesis of amino acids that plants need for growth. Since animals don’t have this enzyme, it was initially hypothesized that they would be safe from Roundup’s effects.
Unfortunately, Roundup has now been shown to affect much more than the EPSP synthase enzyme. The herbicide has been proven to cause birth defects in vertebrates, including in humans, and it may also be the cause of a fatal kidney disease epidemic.
An increasing number of studies are now linking the herbicide to cancer.
Roundup Linked to Increased Cancer in “Soy Republic”
Roundup is now heavily sprayed in what is known as the “Soy Republic,” an area of Latin America larger than the state of California. This region has undergone a profound transformation since genetically modified (GM) crops were first introduced in 1996. Some 125 million acres in Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Uruguay and Paraguay are now devoted to GM soy production.
Doctors serving these areas have documented an alarming increase in cancers. A group of dedicated physicians formed an organization, Doctors of Fumigated Towns. They held a national conference in August of 2010 in Córdoba, the center of Argentina’s soy region. The Department of Medical Sciences of the National University at Córdoba sponsored the conference. An estimated 160 doctors from throughout the country attended.
Dr. Medardo Avila Vazquez, a pediatrician specializing in environmental health, explained his concerns:
“The change in how agriculture is produced has brought, frankly, a change in the profile of diseases. We’ve gone from a pretty healthy population to one with a high rate of cancer, birth defects and illnesses seldom seen before. What we have complained about for years was confirmed and especially what doctors say about the sprayed towns and areas affected by industrial agriculture. Cancer cases are multiplying as never before in areas with massive use of pesticides.”
Dr. Avila Vazquez blamed the biotech agricultural corporations for placing their profits over the public’s health:
“The tobacco companies denied the link between smoking and cancer, and took decades to recognize the truth. The biotech and agrochemical corporations are the same as the tobacco industry; they lie and favor business over the health of the population.”
It was the health of the population that concerned Dr. Damian Verzeñassi, professor of social and environmental health from the National University at Rosario. In 2010, he began a house-to-house epidemiological study of 65,000 people in Santa Fe, also in Argentina’s soy region. He found cancer rates two to four times higher than the national average, with increases in breast, prostate and lung cancers.
Dr. Verzeñassi commented on his findings: “Cancer has skyrocketed in the last fifteen years.”
Much the same was found in Chaco, Argentina’s poorest province. In 2012, two villages were compared, the heavily sprayed farming village of Avia Terai and the non-sprayed ranching village of Charadai. In the farming village, 31 percent of residents had a family member with cancer while only 3 percent of residents in the ranching village had one.
Carlos Fria lives in Avia Terai. He has complained about glyphosate spraying in close proximity to his home:
“If the wind changes, the agrochemicals come into the house. My uncle just died of cancer. My wife too, passed away from cancer. Now many, many people are dying of cancer. It didn’t used to be like that. In my opinion, this has to do with the poison they put on the fields.”
Roundup Linked to Lymphoma
Research has also been done in the United States, Canada, Europe, Australia and New Zealand investigating possible links between glyphosate, Roundup’s active ingredient, and cancer. A large number of studies have focused on glyphosate’s possible association with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
Scientists from the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) have analyzed studies spanning almost three decades. The IARC is the branch of the World Health Organization that promotes cancer research. Scientists throughout the world with skills in epidemiology, laboratory sciences and biostatistics are brought together to identify the causes of cancer so that preventive measures may be instituted. The agency views cancers as linked, directly or indirectly, to environmental factors.
The research shows that Roundup is linked to a host of cancers in those living in the heavily sprayed regions of Latin America. It has also been linked to B cell lymphoma, and to brain cancer.