February 25, 2011

Monsanto Herbicide Under Safety Scrutiny

A newly discovered pathogen, connected to the use of glyphosate, appears to "...significantly impact the health of plants, animals, and probably human beings," claims plant pathologist and retired Purdue University professor Don Huber in a letter to US Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, Reuters reports.

Huber claims the pathogen appears to be connected to use of glyphosate, the key ingredient in Monsanto Co.'s popular herbicide Roundup. Huber is a long-standing critic of genetically modified crops, such as Monsanto's "Roundup Ready" soybean and corn, which have been altered to withstand treatments of the herbicide.

Huber, in his letter to the US Department of Agriculture, claims the organism has been found in high concentrations of Roundup Ready soybean meal and corn, which are used in livestock feed. Laboratory tests have confirmed the presence of the organism in pigs, cattle and other livestock that have experienced spontaneous abortions and infertility.

The pathogen also appears in corn and soybean crops stricken by disease. "I believe the threat we are facing from this pathogen is unique and of a high risk status," Huber explains in his letter. "In layman's terms, it should be treated as an emergency."

Denying the allegations, Monsanto claims its own research as well as independent field studies and tests by multiple US universities do not corroborate Huber's claims. "Monsanto is not aware of any reliable studies that demonstrate Roundup Ready crops are more susceptible to certain diseases or that the application of glyphosate to Roundup Ready crops increases a plant's susceptibility to diseases," the company said in a statement to Reuters.

In his letter to the USDA, Huber says the findings were at an "early stage," but it appears that side effects of glyphosate use may have facilitated growth of the pathogen, or allowed it to cause greater harm to weakened plant and animal hosts. Requesting USDA participation in an investigation, Huber also urged a moratorium on approvals of Roundup Ready crops.

USDA spokesman Andre Bell declined to comment about the letter saying, "We're reviewing it, and will respond directly to Dr. Huber, rather than responding through the media."

Roundup has drawn criticism in the past from skeptics who say the herbicide promotes widespread weed resistance, or facilitates the growth of "super weeds." "While the evidence is considered preliminary, the potential damage to humans and animals is severe," Jeffrey Smith, executive director of the Institute for Responsible Technology, told Reuters.

Argentine scientists claimed last year that Roundup can contribute to birth defects in frogs and chickens. According to Monsanto, the chemical binds tightly to most types of soil, is not harmful and does not harm the crops.

Some scientists point to indications of increased root fungal disease as well as nutrient deficiencies in Roundup Ready crop, claiming manganese deficiency in soybeans in particular appears to be an issue in key US farming areas.

Last year the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said that it may review glyphosate for adverse effects as part of a protocol to review products every 15 years but the agency had no immediate comment Thursday as to whether or not such a review would be undertaken.


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