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Scientist’s Letter Raises Roundup Concerns

A veteran soil scientist wrote a letter to U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack warning of what he says is a newly identified pathogen linked to the herbicide Roundup that might be implicated in livestock fertility problems, as well as diseased corn and soybean crops. 

Don Huber, plant pathologist and a professor emeritus from Purdue University, sent his letter (posted last Friday on the Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance’s website) a week before Vilsack deregulated genetically modified alfalfa. The letter’s public release has generated renewed calls for the government to reverse course on the unrestricted cultivation of GM crops.

Huber coordinates the Emergent Diseases and Pathogens Committee of the American Phytopathological Society as part of the USDA National Plant Disease Recovery System.  He has researched glyphosate, the active chemical in Roundup, for two decades and is a longtime critic of Monsanto’s Roundup Ready crops that are genetically modified to make them resistant to the herbicide.

In his letter, Huber said the research findings were at an “early stage,” but wrote that this “electron microscopic pathogen appears to significantly impact the health of plants, animals, and probably human beings” and likely is connected to glyphosate.

Huber described the pathogen as appearing to be a micro-fungal organism found in high concentrations in Roundup Ready soybean meal and corn, distiller’s meal, fermentation feed products, pig stomach contents, and pig and cattle placentas.

He said laboratory tests have confirmed the presence of the organism in a wide variety of livestock that have experienced spontaneous abortions and infertility.

He did not provide details about the tests or who is pursuing the research.

“The pathogen may explain the escalating frequency of infertility and spontaneous abortions over the past few years in US cattle, dairy, swine, and horse operations. These include recent reports of infertility rates in dairy heifers of over 20%, and spontaneous abortions in cattle as high as 45%,” Huber wrote. He did not cite the source of the statistics.

Monsanto says it has addressed Huber’s concerns in the past. The company’s website references research that found no negative consequences to soil and plant health connected with glyphosate; the research refutes information Huber published on the website of The Institute for Responsible Technology, an advocacy group opposed to GMOs.

“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 response to the Huber letter.

In a phone interview, Huber said the purpose of his letter was to get the resources and scientific base behind it to research the pathogen, “to really sort everything out, because it’s becoming a crisis for us.”  He added, “We have veterinarians very concerned about enough animals, just replacement animals, for our beef and dairy herds.”

The USDA, contacted for this article, confirmed that the Huber letter had been received and is being reviewed, but a spokesperson said the department will respond to Huber directly, not through the media. 

Although Roundup has been identified as one of the less dangerous pesticides in agricultural use, Huber provided this reporter with a list of over 100 references to research that linked glyphosate to various adverse effects, but none related to the newly discovered pathogen he wants researched.

Last year, researchers in Argentina published data claiming glyphosate contributed to problems with chicken and frog embryos. Their research was inspired by clinical data on birth defects in the children of agricultural workers in fields that use Roundup. 

Huber and Jeffrey Smith, executive director of the Institute for Responsible Technology, said glyphosate inhibits the uptake of nutrients in plants, and has been linked to reduced nutrient efficiency. They said animals that eat GM soy and corn have exhibited mineral deficiencies, which can lead to problems with everything from the immune system to reproduction. Huber says glyphosate is also implicated in more than 30 plant diseases.  

Agronomic issues have been at the center of some objections raised last year during the comment period on GM alfalfa, although most of the objections to the proposed deregulation focused on the potential contamination of organic crops and products through cross-pollination. With Huber’s letter, GM opponents are also resurfacing the debate around health issues.  

The battle amounts to a question of whose research is factual. In a Feb. 13 op-ed piece published in the Los Angeles Times, Doug Gurian-Sherman, of the Union of Concerned Scientists, points to the challenges scientists have in accessing seeds for research purposes, because Monsanto and other companies own and patent the seeds, and restrict research on them. “To ensure that agricultural science serves the public, Congress should change patent law and create a clear exemption for agricultural research,” Gurian-Sherman wrote. 

In his letter, Huber warned that if Roundup does facilitate a pathogen linked to plant disease and health problems for farm animals, “this is highly sensitive information that could result in a collapse of US soy and corn export markets and significant disruption of domestic food and feed supplies.”

The Institute of Responsible Technology’s Smith said,  “Dr. Huber is qualified to state that this is an emergency. The USDA, FDA, and EPA have thus far ignored serious risks of GMOs. This is a big test to see if even in an emergency they will acknowledge the risks and deploy appropriate resources. It’s too early to determine causation, but the risks are so high, they must delay deployment of Roundup Ready alfalfa and put a substantial team of experts onto this right away.”

© Food Safety News
  • Doc Mudd

    We were past due for a good hoaxing, apparently.
    Andrew Wakefield has been exposed for a year and a vacuum created for the next junkscience-fueled fearmonger to take the limelight.
    Let’s review just a few of the great hoaxes:
    ** Nuclear armageddon, in the 1950s
    ** Global overpopulation, in the 1960s
    ** Global cooling, in the 1970s
    ** Alar and electromagnetic transmission, both in the 1980s
    ** Vaccines causing autism, in the 1990s
    ** Thimerisol causing autism, in the 2000s
    Sometimes I get a little nostalgic for the good ol’ reports of ordinary UFO abductions and Elvis sightings. Life was so much simpler then.
    Oh well, this latest crapstorm of junkscience and unfounded opinion will eventually blow itself out. Think of it as a spectator sport; a study in the frailties and peculiarities of human intellect, eh?

  • njohnson

    USDA’s decision to plow ahead with deregulation of GE Round Up Ready alfalfa despite being informed of even more serious health concerns related to GE/GMOs should reveal to all the deep corruption plaguing corporate-captured regulatory agencies. Like the FDA, which originally approved GMOs without proof of safety — even going to far as to suppress government scientists’ concerns about potential health risks under the watch of the current Deputy Commissioner of Food Safety and former Monsanto lawyer and vice president Michael Taylor — USDA proves itself the ever-obliging servant of powerful vested interests.
    “Our” government’s position on safety issues displays horrifying hypocrisy. On one hand, it asserts the right, now ratified by the Food Safety Modernization Act, to search, seize and destroy anything that it believes might cause a gastrointestinal disturbance like diarrhea, despite the fact that the fourth amendment demands any official to obtain a court-issued warrant requiring probable cause prior to such action; and, on the other hand, it chronically and purposefully belittles, ignores and suppresses all scientific evidence of life-threatening danger posed to hundreds of millions of people, abdicating its responsibility to protect the public welfare, if such action pleases its corporate masters.
    When are those of you in the food safety community going to step up and demand that this vast human, animal and environmental experiment end? Are you more concerned with professional security than you are with what your profession purports to make secure?
    Slavery is the legal fiction that a person is property. Corporate personhood is the legal fiction that property is a person. The patenting of seeds and other life forms is the legal fiction that property may enslave people. It would behoove us to come to our senses and realize patents are being used as a weapon of economic warfare in a corporate campaign to control the global food supply and the world’s population. Patents on life, as well as corporate personhood, are abominations that must be abolished.

  • Doc Mudd

    This faux-newsflash at least provides a teachable moment for even our most elementary students of food safety.
    Our young future outbreak sleuths will delight in finding this case of journalistic “gastrointestinal disturbance like diarrhea” imminently traceable back to its source with some simple plinking around in Google (hint: Daily Kos –> La Vida Locavore –> FARFA).
    For our intermediate level epidemiology trainees, to crack the case it helps to know a little applied plant science (hint: wheatlage is made from wheat and there is no RoundupReady wheat in production in the US).
    For our practicing food scientists and epidemiologists, let’s observe a moment of silence for how poor, poor retired professor Don M. Huber is being used by his young ‘friends’ of the Luddite fringe. Any means to an end, I guess. Doesn’t make it right, though.

  • njohnson

    That Dr. Huber, a former military and governmental scientist with 40 years of experience studying natural and manmade biological threats, would have to send a copy of the warning letter that Vilsack ignored to FARFA or any organization to publicize what they consider an emergency in light of USDA’s approval of Roundup Ready alfalfa speaks more to the state of what passes for journalism in this country than anything else Mudd suggests. If USDA had acted honestly in its assessment whether it was in the public interest to deregulate the Monsanto/Land O’Lakes seed product, Dr. Huber would not have had to blow the whistle on it.
    Journalists and television producers have been fired for daring to question the safety of introducing crops that produce their own herbicide or are genetically engineered to withstand the application of glyphosate. The careers of scientists who published studies showing harm caused to test subjects have been abruptly ended. Seeds are made unavailable for scientific research to even government agricultural scientists who seek to study the effects of various growing conditions. Mountains of money are spent by industry to fund pro-GMO research. Universities know who butters their bread. And the public remains uninformed by corporate-owned media about something that now pervades their food supply. Turning to organics is one option, but even that doesn’t prevent exposure to GMOs, as USDA NOP standards don’t require testing or define a threshold of contamination, allowing the adventitious presence of GMOs to spread.
    I can see why Monsanto would dismiss the new findings; it have a long history of discounting all studies that show harm. But I would think those who profess a concern for the safety of our food supply would be rather alarmed to learn of the existence of a never-before-seen fungal pathogen that adversely affects plants, animals and possibly humans.
    Where is the call by food safety professionals for an immediate moratorium on Roundup Ready crops?
    The silence is stunning.

  • Nicole Johnson

    USDA’s decision to plow ahead with deregulation of GE Round Up Ready alfalfa despite being informed of even more serious health concerns related to GE/GMOs should reveal to all the deep corruption plaguing corporate-captured regulatory agencies. Like the FDA, which originally approved GMOs without proof of safety — even going to far as to suppress government scientists’ concerns about potential health risks under the watch of the current Deputy Commissioner of Food Safety and former Monsanto lawyer and vice president Michael Taylor — USDA proves itself the ever-obliging servant of powerful vested interests.
    “Our” government’s position on safety issues displays horrifying hypocrisy. On one hand, it asserts the right, now ratified by the Food Safety Modernization Act, to search, seize and destroy anything that it believes might cause a gastrointestinal disturbance like diarrhea, despite the fact that the fourth amendment demands any official to obtain a court-issued warrant requiring probable cause prior to such action; and, on the other hand, it chronically and purposefully belittles, ignores and suppresses all scientific evidence of life-threatening danger posed to hundreds of millions of people, abdicating its responsibility to protect the public welfare, if such action pleases its corporate masters.
    When are those of you in the food safety community going to step up and demand that this vast human, animal and environmental experiment end? Are you more concerned with professional security than you are with what your profession purports to make secure?
    Slavery is the legal fiction that a person is property. Corporate personhood is the legal fiction that property is a person. The patenting of seeds and other life forms is the legal fiction that property may enslave people. It would behoove us to come to our senses and realize patents are being used as a weapon of economic warfare in a corporate campaign to control the global food supply and the world’s population. Patents on life, as well as corporate personhood, are abominations that must be abolished.

  • Nicole Johnson

    That Dr. Huber, a former military and governmental scientist with 40 years of experience studying natural and manmade biological threats, would have to send a copy of the warning letter that Vilsack ignored to FARFA or any organization to publicize what they consider an emergency in light of USDA’s approval of Roundup Ready alfalfa speaks more to the state of what passes for journalism in this country than anything else Mudd suggests. If USDA had acted honestly in its assessment whether it was in the public interest to deregulate the Monsanto/Land O’Lakes seed product, Dr. Huber would not have had to blow the whistle on it.
    Journalists and television producers have been fired for daring to question the safety of introducing crops that produce their own herbicide or are genetically engineered to withstand the application of glyphosate. The careers of scientists who published studies showing harm caused to test subjects have been abruptly ended. Seeds are made unavailable for scientific research to even government agricultural scientists who seek to study the effects of various growing conditions. Mountains of money are spent by industry to fund pro-GMO research. Universities know who butters their bread. And the public remains uninformed by corporate-owned media about something that now pervades their food supply. Turning to organics is one option, but even that doesn’t prevent exposure to GMOs, as USDA NOP standards don’t require testing or define a threshold of contamination, allowing the adventitious presence of GMOs to spread.
    I can see why Monsanto would dismiss the new findings; it have a long history of discounting all studies that show harm. But I would think those who profess a concern for the safety of our food supply would be rather alarmed to learn of the existence of a never-before-seen fungal pathogen that adversely affects plants, animals and possibly humans.
    Where is the call by food safety professionals for an immediate moratorium on Roundup Ready crops?
    The silence is stunning.

  • Doc Mudd

    What’s “stunning” is the audacity of alarmists.
    The deafening silence is out of embarrassment for those who were punked…and because loud laughter is considered impolite.

  • JJ

    What’s “stunning”is Doc Mudd’s silly list of “junkscience” that includes population issues (a very real concern), global climate change, pesticide residues in fruits (yep, Alar was one, and apples are still one of the fruits with the highest pesticide levels), and electromagnetic issues (Go listen to lats night’s Science Friday broadcast, and listen to the researcher’s discussion on this issue).
    Those are very real issues in science, although you have the lunatic fringe of the right (such as “doc” mudd)) trying, through poor science, tweaked statistics, and their own cherry-picked “scientists” to refute the information.
    However, the onus is on corporations like Monsanto and on our own USDA (not up to the task, apparently) to show safety, particularly when the potential for harm is so vastly huge. It is a basic right of all to have safe food and safe water.
    Folks like “doc” mudd pooh-pooh preliminary reports such as Dr. Huber’s readily enough, but they need to be followed up. Dr HUber admits that the results are in the early stage. What’s they hurry to get these GM crops to market, when the consequences are so problematic?
    Oh yeah. Money.
    That trumps our right to safe food any day.
    Now THAT is stunning.

  • Jack Welch

    Interesting take on junk science fueled fearmongering Mr. Mudd. What is it about nuclear weapons that makes you rest so easy? A push of a button and nuclear aramaggedon would be as real as the threat was back in the 1950’s. And is there something about the population of the world that makes you think it is getting smaller? As far as vaccines and thermisol causing Autism the answer is no they do not cause Autism however they are a conduit to the disease. When you were a child you probably received a total of three shots. Today’s children receive as many as 32 shots with many of those coming in combination. For a child with a weak immune system they cannot tolerate such intrusions to their small bodies. If you were given those same shots adjusting the thermisol to compensate for the difference in weight between you and a small child, I would venture to say you would feel the effects. Try it sometime. You’ll be seeing UFO’s and Elvis before you know it. Regarding global cooling/global warming I have no idea which science is correct and which is bogus however if believing in global cooling means cleaning up the environment and searching for alternative energy sources then I land on the side of believing. I take the same attitude with GMO’s. Until it is shown to be completely safe to humans, plants and animals we should land on the side of caution.

  • Doc Mudd

    “Like the FDA, which originally approved GMOs without proof of safety…”
    “However, the onus is on corporations like Monsanto and on our own USDA (not up to the task, apparently) to show safety…”
    “Until it is shown to be completely safe to humans, plants and animals we should land on the side of caution.”
    Gee Willikers, seems these earnest folks demand absolute unconditional 100% ‘safety’! Well, if science is gonna hafta make anything foolproof, first we’ll need a gaggle of fools to do the testing. Looks like we may be in luck!

  • Lisa

    Wheatlage may have been growing next to RR crop or treated with RR to help with harvest.
    pro gmos will likely tell you that glyphospate binds to the soil and isnt likely to contaminate water. What they wont tell you is that glyphospate becomes unbound with phosphate and then leaches into the water. tHey wont tell you that glyphospate is a chelator and strips soil of metals like iron, zinc and nikel which are neccesary beneficial nutrients. here is peer reviewed paper on the dangers of Ready roundup glyphospate spray
    http://www.i-sis.org.uk/glyphosateTolerantCrops.php
    You will be told many things by GMO advocates such as:
    GMO crops are less labor intensive.
    WEll, this is true, you no longer have to spray only weeds, you can spray the whole kaboodle. However, as I said before when you consolidate and make everything easier there will actually be LESS jobs to go around.
    GMO crops will help to feed the world.
    WELL, any crop will help to feed the world. Do you want your crop to be artificial (I will get to this in a minute) doused in chemicals and capital intensive? or.. do you want your crop to be natural, not sprayed with synthetic chemicals and less capital intensive? heres a peer reviewed study that shows organic can feed us.
    http://journals.cambridge.org/action/displayAbstract?fromPage=online&aid=1091304
    GMO crops are no till and better for the soil.
    WELL, guess what? Organic has a no till plan as well called Nitrogen fixing cover crops.
    lets talk about horizontal gene transfer which pro gmos willtell you happens all the time naturally in nature. ( and is how they achieve gmos in the first place)
    Point of fact, HGT happens prolifically with bateria, parasites..etc.. etc. Has it happened with plants and mammals? yes it has. However it happens as a natural species adaption Simply put.. evole or die. Natural HGT will either kill or incorporate into the other species and evolve with its new trait, which is beneficial to that species evolution. AND HGT does not happen so frequently in plants and mammals, as it does with bacteria, parasites.
    What happens with GMO crops? WELL, the plant must be infected,or given a disease in order to make HGT work. So you make plants sick with viruses and bacteria and then whichever plants survive get a new trait that would never EVER have been possible in nature. Now these new plants can tolerate a man-made chemical that would other wise kill them. These plants were artificially manipulated to accept artifical chemical compounds. SO therefore I consider them to be artificial. These plants had an evolutionary process FORCED on them. A process which never could have happened in nature. (this is where the contamination/biodiversity issue comes into play. ALOT of us dont want our natural plants contaminated with the artificial plant.)
    Now, I know science is exciting and can help in untold numerous ways. It can also do just the opposite.
    Now lets talk about corruption. I dont even have to say anything. This has been going on since the nineties.
    http://www.monsantosucks.com/Newsnviews/revolvedoor.htm
    AND it still continues….
    http://www.franklinmodems.org/2011/02/14/michael-taylor-monsanto-and-the-revolving-door/
    CURRENTLYY ITS EVEN WORSE THAN YOU KNOW
    Clarence Thomas and Donald Rumsfeld also worked for Monsanto.
    to finish I just want to say that we can sit here and argue opinions and facts till the cow jumps over the moon. What it boils down to is this.
    This isnt communism USA. I cant tell you to stop GMO. You cant tell us to stop organic. WHY?
    This is the land of the “free” We have freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and the right to entrepeneur, and the right to own property.
    Along with these rights comes protection. If your GMO superweed is spreading all over my property, I can take action for compensation.
    If your GMO seed is contaminating my natural seed, I can take action for compensation. If your GMO is harming my property or my business I have a right for compensation. This is the law.
    There is a growing demand for natural,food. People realize these chemicals are dangerous. Alot of these chemicals DO cause cancer, they are endocrine disrupters, they also disrupt reproduction and growth. More and more scientists and Doctors are finding these chemicals in our blood, in the water, well, Everywhere.
    Meanwhile, you guys keep telling yourselves this gmo is the right thing, after all you are allowed its the land of the “free” just dont expect everyone to jump on your band wagon.

  • Good catch, Lisa.
    This thread didn’t have the crackpot conspiracy theories properly reiterated, amplified and displayed in full crank-a-tastic regalia. But, thankfully, you’ve remedied that.
    We can all sleep better knowing that ever-vigilant amateur science watchdogs have got our backs. Because they’d like to have our grocery money – well, we owe them, don’t we? For keepin’ us safe from scary boogiemen, and all. Isn’t that worth 2X and 3X ordinary price for grubby organic stuff?
    (Oh, Geez, not Donald Rumsfeld – I’d worked hard at it until I had completely forgotten that guy. Now he’s held up as a paragon of weedscience conspirators. Uhhh, whatever. Thanks for the irrelevant mental image.)

  • SuzieQ

    Try to find an ag college to which Monsanto doesn’t make very large donations… just one. Places like Purdue U. fall all over themselves to show their appreciation for the big bucks, like foot-licking little puppies. But what happens when Big M doesn’t like what someone is going to publish about Big M products? Do you think they threaten to withdraw their donations? REALLY? Would they DO that? In case you hadn’t noticed, from kindergarten on up, American schools are about the money, and ONLY about the money.
    What it comes down to is that if someone at Purdue or anywhere else has the balls to try to buck Big M, they aren’t allowed to do it by the college. Probably the only way they won’t lose their job is to wait until they retire. Dr. Don Huber waited, and now he can saw anything he wants!
    Funny thing about this “Doc” Mudd character who frequents Food Safety News so religiously… food safety is obviously the very LAST thing he’s interested in. I wonder which of Monsanto’s trolls he is?

  • Lisa

    Doc
    Im sorry you didnt like my amateur science lesson, if you can do better please have at it.
    Although I must confess I could have worded it differently.
    Its the cells of the plant that are infected with a pathogen bateria or virus. actually.

  • UPDATE 4/1/11: Well, a month has passed uneventfully on this sad prank.
    Turns out Huber hasn’t produced any data or corroboration for his bizarre claims (apparently has none).
    http://dailycaller.com/2011/04/01/biotech-letter-gets-notice-online-but-is-it-true/
    Certainly not expecting any further developments in this story after all this time. Just a sick hoax perpetrated by operatives at FARFA and La Vida Locavore, as we first suspected. A bunch of gullible people got punked, but so what else is new?
    Oh well, Kumbaya, campers!