Glyphosate ban: Has GMOA studied the research? | Daily News
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Glyphosate ban: Has GMOA studied the research?

At a press conference held on April 11, the Government Medical Officers’ Association (GMOA) stated that fresh laws should be introduced to take “stern action” against people involved in smuggling in such “harmful chemicals” like glyphosate. The GMOA considers glyphosate to be “harmful” because it allegedly causes cancer and kidney disease. However, just last November, the world's largest study on the health effects of glyphosate covering over two decades and involving 90,000 people, found NO harmful effects even on applying powerful statistical analysis to scrutinise the data.

Published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute (JNCI) on November 9, 2017, the long-term large-numbers’ study found that there was NO association between glyphosate, the main ingredient in Monsanto’s popular herbicide RoundUp and any type of cancer. In particular, there was no association with “any solid tumors or lymphoid malignancies overall, including non-Hodgkin lymphoma and its subtypes.”

The new study used long-term data collected through the Agricultural Health Study. The study carefully monitored the health of nearly 90,000 people in Iowa and North Carolina from 1993 to 2010. These included farmers licensed to apply pesticides to their crops, and their spouses. The impact of more than 54,000 pesticide applications is taken into account in the study of which 83 percent contained glyphosate. Many of the farmers had been using glyphosate even before the study. Yet, after some two decades of continuous and intense use of glyphosate herbicides, they found NO significant increase in cancers among those exposed to the chemical.

Most scientists acknowledged the quality, clarity and decisiveness of the study, funded entirely with government and university sources. David Spiegelhalter, a Cambridge University professor who was himself not involved in the study, confirmed (according to a Reuter report) that the analysis has been “large and careful” and shows “no significant relationship between glyphosate use and cancer.”

So, how did the GMOA miss this decisive, massive study which in fact looks at the type of diseases that the GMOA thinks is caused by glyphosate? Even though we can excuse Ven. Athuraliye Rathana Thera and his acolytes to be out of touch with the scientific community, one would expect that the GMOA would have its committee of mavens when it comes to technical matters, even though we recognise that the GMOA is a trade union with the primary mandate of protecting its own turf.

Lack of scientific evidence

The most important “non-communicable disease” that the GMOA refers to is cancer. This is precisely what is now definitively excluded from any association with the use of glyphosate, even if the latter were used continuously and intensely for two decades by a farmer. Perhaps the GMOA also has in mind the form of chronic kidney disease of unknown origin (CKDu) that is prevalent mainly in the Rajarata. There is no scientific evidence at all in support of this, while there is compelling evidence against the claim. In Sri Lanka, a small but politically powerful group of individuals led by Ven. Ratana Thera, and a small number of scientists on the fringe of the main scientific community have claimed that chronic kidney disease is caused by the glyphosate in the environment and the food chain, and that too only if arsenic, hard water and other agents are found in conjunction with glyphosate.

But the cats, dogs, cattle, and many villagers in the Rajarata itself, where the residents drink water from agricultural channels, rivers and lakes, do NOT get CKDu, while those who drink water from their private wells, located away from the paddy fields, get CKDu. So there is a strong anti-correlation between agrochemical use and CKDu. We also know that countries like Malaysia and New Zealand, which use many dozens of times more agrochemicals than Sri Lanka have no such chronic diseases.

Furthermore, the 90,000 people monitored by the US-NCI study would have also alerted the researchers to any higher incidence of kidney disease, since many different health indices of these subjects were a part of the inputs to the database. While the presence of correlations does not establish a causal connection, the LACK of any correlation is a very strong indication that glyphosate cannot be a causative factor in diseases that the GMOA has indicated.

Vested interests

This US-NCI study is just one of the many studies that have come to this conclusion. Over 190 countries of the world are satisfied and approve the use of glyphosate. However, strong political movements that take a nostalgic, romantic and often anti-science approach to agriculture have become very powerful during recent decades.

Their strength is the unreasoned fear of the public, fanned by the “MANTHRA” that chemicals “in the food” cause all sorts of chronic diseases. These groups join hands with the commercial interests of large consumer chains that offer “organic foods,” “natural foods,” “holistic foods,” etc., catering to the elite classes who also control the politics of most countries, constituting about 1 percent of the world population. It is not surprising that many educated people and indeed medical doctors who do the “daily grind” but do not follow the research, fall for the “chemicals are poisoning our food” MANTHRA. In fact, many agrochemicals, if applied in sufficiently high doses can be toxic, as with ALL pharmaceuticals and industrial substances like gasoline, chlorine, or common detergents. Even spices like chillies and cloves are potent toxins when their familiar-use thresholds are exceeded.

The conclusion of the International Agency for Research in Cancer (IARC) in 2015 that glyphosate is a Class-II hazard causing cancer at high doses was a God-send to the “no-chemicals-in-my-food” (NCMF) lobby. The Class-II hazard was weaponised for propaganda and renamed a dangerous TOXIN although no health risk was implied by the IARC. The NCMF lobby joined the powerful activists engaged against “Frankenfood.” This was their name for foods cropped from genetically modified organisms (GMO). Wheat, soya, canola oil, rice and vegetables where specific genes in their DNA have been replaced by other genes confer them economically or medically desirable properties. Genetic engineering of crops is the modern version of “plant breeding” where trial-and-error approaches are replaced by a modern approach guided by the DNA of the crops of interest. A key role in GMO cropping has been given to glyphosate in that it is economically advantageous to use GMO crops resistant to glyphosate to allow weed control. Sri Lankans have been safely eating GM–wheat flour from USA, and Canadian lentils, for decades.

The opponents of GMO have directed their guns on glyphosate as a part of their campaign against so-called “Frankenfoods.” Every manner of propaganda trick has been used. One of the most farcical is the Kangaroo court organised by a French journalist, Marie-Monique Robin, in the Hague, Netherlands. This propaganda event, patented and owned by Robin is named by her “The International Court of Justice, Hague” to deceive the public by associating with similar-sounding institutions linked to the United Nations (see:

This “court” pronounced in April 2017 that Monsanto has committed crimes against humanity in unleashing glyphosate which is “a weapon of mass destruction”! Ven. Rathana Thera and Dr. Jayasumana were the main Sri Lankan “delegates” to the Kangaroo court. The delegation claimed that 3 out of every 100 families in the Rajarata gave birth to deformed children due to glyphosate use. However, 3 percent is the expected average birth statistic for deformed children, irrespective of glyphosate use, even in the days before glypohsate, be it in “glyphobic” Norway, Sri Lanka or “glyphilic” North America. Ven. Ratana Thera repeated the same false claim of 3 percent birth defects in the Rajarata “being due to glyphosate” on Derana on March27, 2018.

On the same broadcast, Ven. Rathana Thera stated that the GMOA is with him. Does the GMOA stand with the statistics of Ven. Rathana Thera? Has the GMOA taken cognizance of the world's largest study on glyphosate covering some 90,000 people exposed to glyphosate for some two decades, continuously? As a responsible, professional body, we hope that the GMOA acts on the basis of evidence and rejects the false claims of misguided zealots.

(The author is a former Vice-Chancellor and Professor of Chemistry at the Jayewardenepura University and currently works as Physicist at the National Research Council of Canada, Ottawa and the Department of Physics, University of Montreal, Canada.)


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