One of the most potentially harmful aspects of genetically-modified crops, or GMOs, are that such crops are often engineered to be resistant to specific herbicides or pesticides. A farmer therefore can spray an herbicide to kill weeds, while the GM crop plant survives. But it means that the plant now has herbicide residues in it. Or it may contain its own built-in pesticide such as Bt toxin, expressed by the plant because the gene for this pest-resistant compound has been spliced into the plant’s genetic code. So GMO crops pose a double-whammy: the crop itself with new genetically-programmed components, especially proteins, coupled with an herbicide or pesticide.
Glyphosate is the most widely applied herbicide in the world, in part because GM corn and soy have been engineered to be glyphosate-resistant. So much glysphosate is being used in modern agriculture that EcoWatch tallied up a total of 2.6 billion pounds having been sprayed on crops in the 20 years between 1992 and 2012. And use of this herbicide has increased since those figures were published. Glyphosate is also used as an herbicide and dessicant in other agricultural applications outside of GM crops, though grains and soy carry the highest levels of glyphosate residues. If livestock such as cows and chickens are fed glyphosate-containing feed, glyphosate residues can be found in meat, eggs, and dairy products. And, to make matters even worse, glyphosate, because of its widespread, high-volume application, is now found in drinking water throughout the U.S.
And, given the bulk of animal and human data, there is no remaining doubt: glyphosate is carcinogenic, increasing risk for non-Hodgkin’s lympnhoma, B-cell lymphoma, and multiple myeloma, in particular. The Seralini study that showed a dramatic increase in breast cancer from glyphosate is also worrisome. (This was the study that was mysteriously retracted by the publishing journal without explanation after threats were made by agribusiness, but has since been rereleased.) But there’s more to the glyphosate story.
There is growing suspicion that glyphosate can act as an antimicrobial or antibiotic. (Monsanto even has a patent for glyphosate as an antimicrobial.) Animal model data demonstrate that glyphosate selectively kills beneficial bacteria, such as Enterococcus faecalis, Enterococcus faecium, Bacillus badius, Bifidobacterium adolescentis and Lactobacillus species, while allowing the proliferation of undesirable, even disease-causing, species such as Salmonella enteritidis, Salmonella gallinarum, Salmonella typhimurium, Clostridium perfringens and Clostridium botulinum.
Lactic acid producing bacteria that have beneficial effects, such as lactobacilli, lactococci, and enterococci, generate bacteriocins, or factors that suppress growth of undesirable bacterial species. Specifically, the bacteriocins produced by lactic acid producing bacteria help keep Clostridium species at bay, such as C. difficile that often emerges after antibiotics are prescribed. (Farmers in Europe are even seeing an increase in botulism in livestock due to emergence of Clostridium botulinum that is suspected to be due to glyphosate.) This selective effect of glyphosate, killing off lactic acid producing bacteria while leaving undesirable species untouched, may be one of the ways by which humans develop dysbiosis and small intestinal bacterial overgrowth, SIBO, that can cause abdominal distress, irritable bowel syndrome, fibromyalgia, the intestinal “leakiness” that adds to risk for autuoimmune diseases, and neurological conditions.
In food, glyphosate persists for extended periods, is not removed by rinsing with water, and is resistant to cooking temperatures. Some forms of processing can even concentrate glyphosate residues, such as processing of wheat bran. There are limited data on the concentration of glyphosate in food, but the UK government has performed some studies in wheat products:
By eating food or drinking water that contains glyphosate, you are therefore exposed to at least some of these effects, particularly in the gastrointestinal tract. In a nutshell, the problems with glyphosate can be summarized as:
- Glyphosate residues in crops, especially grains and soy, and in drinking water in some regions, are at levels too high for human health.
- Glyphosate may act as a selective antibiotic in the human gut, killing off beneficial bowel flora species, while encouraging proliferation of pathogenic species.
- Glyphosate acts as an antimicrobial in the soil, accelerating the deterioration of topsoil, a major problem for agriculture and a phenomenon that has essentially undone every civilization ever since the advent of agriculture.
Some irresponsible authors have claimed that the only problem with wheat is its content of glyphosate which, of course, is nonsense. If that were true, all the problems of wheat would disappear just by choosing organic wheat products. It means that there would be no high blood sugars, no weight gain, no acid reflux, no bowel urgency, no cerebellar ataxia, no behavioral/emotional effects, no iron deficiency anemia, no celiac disease if you just choose organic wheat—absolutely not the case. But glyphosate is indeed yet another aspect of the wheat and grain issue for humans. And it may be one of the crucial reasons that underlies the epidemic of disrupted bowel flora. Glyphosate is something you need to avoid in order to begin the path back to restoration of healthy bowel flora.
There are similar issues with Bt toxin, found most abundantly in corn and soy. Unlike glyphosate that is sprayed on the crop with only residues persisting in the final food product, Bt toxin is present in food because it has been made part of the plant itself, not just a residue. There is increasing suspicion that Bt toxin, contrary to Monsanto’s assurances and the lax review made by the EPA, USDA, and FDA, has effects on the immune system, potentially heightening phenomena associated with conditions such as celiac disease and inflammatory bowel disease, as well as allergic reactions. Although Monsanto claims that Bt toxin is “natural,” the actual forms used in agriculture are not natural, but include a variety of synthetic forms that have increased potential for adverse human health effects. Shockingly, there are virtually no studies—nor did regulatory agencies request them—examining the effects of Bt toxin on the microbiome, though some critics have asked regulatory agencies such as the European Food Safety Authority to demand that such studies be done.
You can see that, by following the Wheat Belly lifestyle in which we reject all wheat, corn, soy, and grains, you have dramatically reduced exposure to GM-associated foods and chemicals. This is a big first step in taking back control over your microbiome.