David Moyer: From the wastewater pond to the kitchen table
As a retired person, I find it easy these days to retreat from the concerns of the world and mindlessly watch TV. However, the other day two articles on the internet and a television ad jolted me out of my entertainment-mediated somnolence. But first, some context.
In 1989, scientists discovered a soil bacterium surviving in a glyphosate-contaminated wastewater pond in Louisiana owned by a company that makes a popular weed killer. Normally, glyphosate kills plants by blocking proteins essential to plant growth. The bacterium should not have survived in the toxic brew, but it did. Long story short, scientists went on to splice the gene from that bacterium into various crops so they too could survive glyphosate. Sounds good, so far.
Today, glyphosate is found in genetically modified crops such as corn, soy, alfalfa, and crops that are not genetically modified such as rice and wheat. Farmers desiccate their non-GMO crops with it to promote homogeneity during harvest. Millions of us use the stuff to kill weeds in our yards. It is in our breakfast cereals. It is in our water supplies.
Now for the not so good. It is ubiquitous. Since 1970, the frequency and volume of glyphosate-based herbicides increased 100 fold. Additional use of glyphosate is expected due to the expected evolution of more glyphosate-resistant plants. Currently 41 species of weeds resist the weed killer. Numerous glyphosate related health risks have been identified, but here we will focus on just one, the effect it has on our livers.
The first article in the Jan 9., 2017, issue of Scientific Reports is entitled “Multiomics reveal non-alcoholic fatty liver disease in rats following chronic exposure to an ultra-low dose of Roundup herbicide. Rats exposed daily to levels of glyphosate well within the guidelines of the European and American regulatory agencies developed fatty liver disease.
The second was a CNBC article dated Dec. 30, 2018, entitled, ”The $35 billion race to cure a silent killer that affects 30 million Americans.” This silent killer is Nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), also known as non-alcoholic fatty lever disease. According to the article, “The National Institutes of Health estimates as many as 30 million people, or 12 percent of U.S. adults, now have NASH.” The article attributes this to rising obesity rates. “Today we are seeing people in their 20s and 30s with NASH,” According to Dr. Leona Kim-Schluger, a hepatologist and professor at the Recanati/Miller Transplantation Institute at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York,” the disease is even reaching the pediatric population. Caused by fat? Hmm …
MIT research scientists Samsel and Seneff, in a review of the scientific literature demonstrated that exposure to glyphosate causes or contributes to a host of chronic medical diseases, including fatty liver disease and kidney failure.
In the TV ad mentioned at the beginning of this article, lines of folks are waiting for their liver transplant. The narrator announces hopefully that you can move to the front of the line if you find a donor willing to share a part of their liver with you before you get too sick. In other words, find a partial donor before the line gets too long, before it is too late. The ad is foreboding and dystopian. The abnormal is normalized.
In a book I wrote in 2015, I introduced the term “perilous symbioses” in the context of mental illness. Here is simple example. An industry manufactures a toxin that increases the risk for depression (e.g., mercury) and the pharmaceutical industry comes up with a treatment for depression (e.g., antidepressants).
With glyphosate, we have an example of “perilous symbiosis.” Corporations manufacture glyphosate. The pharmaceutical industry works to develop a treatment to mitigate one of the harmful effects. Actually, when the toxic effects are particularly onerous, a third symbiotic beneficiary class, the lawyers, enter the fray. Note the appeal of the August 2018 $289 million finding against Monsanto for a glyphosate-linked terminal cancer. The court settled on $80 million. (I digress. I promised to only talk about livers.) To summarize, the beneficiaries of the perilous symbioses win. We, the public lose.
The FDA should have banned glyphosate years ago. For now, the most we consumers can do is to stay away from it, whether it is in our weed killer, our breakfast cereal, our nonorganic bread or our fast foods. As a prophet said of old, “They that sow the wind shall reap the whirlwind.”
David Moyer lives in Penn Valley.
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