By Silvia Ribeiro *
Monsanto is under a wave of lawsuits in the United States, accused of having caused the plaintiffs' cancer with glyphosate, knowing that it was harmful, even potentially carcinogenic (here).
To this are added new accusations against the transnational and glyphosate: the destruction of bacteria present in the human intestine, essential for good digestive health, the immune system and even for the functioning of the brain. It seems trivial, because we do not usually recognize the vital importance of the billions of bacteria that make up our microbiome, but the truth is that they are crucial for the health and proper functioning of many organs, even the general system that is our body. As science advances in recognizing the importance of the microbiome, Monsanto has been incisively destroying it for decades.
This is the core of the legal action against Monsanto that six Missouri consumers took in June 2017, for spreading false information about glyphosate harms. Glyphosate acts as a herbicide by inhibiting the action of the EPSP synthetase enzyme, essential for the synthesis of several important amino acids, which in turn build proteins.
In plain English, when that enzyme doesn't work, the herb can't grow and dies. Monsanto has repeatedly claimed that since this enzyme only exists in plants and not animals and humans, glyphosate is safe for us and our pets. (here).
But the enzyme does exist in the bacteria that are in our digestive organs and, therefore, the continuous ingestion of glyphosate kills them, inhibiting not only its beneficial function, but also producing an imbalance that allows other harmful microorganisms to expand.
Monsanto invented glyphosate in 1974 and has been selling it ever since, it is one of its main sources of profit. But what really caused the exponential increase in their use were glyphosate-tolerant GMOs, such as GMO soybeans, corn and cotton. Before GMOs, glyphosate also damaged the crop, so its use was less and limited to certain times of planting. With GMOs, use increased to 2,000 percent in the United States, killing everything around the crop, but also rapidly generating resistance in those grasses, which came to be called superweeds, because they resist glyphosate and other herbicides.
More than half of the fields in the United States have superweeds, and in the southern states, such as Georgia, more than 90 percent of farms have one or more resistant invasive weeds. Similar situations are repeated in Argentina and Brazil, which with the United States are the three countries with the largest extension of transgenic crops.
Faced with this situation, farmers began to use increasingly high and repeated doses of glyphosate and, in turn, Monsanto and other transgenic transnationals increased the concentration and surfactants present in pesticides, increasing their toxicity.
Currently, we are suffering from a silent epidemic of glyphosate - be it by direct inhalation in fields, by being close to fumigation areas or by the widespread and increasingly high residues in food, mainly industrial products that contain transgenic soybeans and corn.
In the shadow of this threat, another, directly related threat has been unleashed. Faced with resistant herbs, the agro-toxic and transgenic transnationals began to make transgenic crops that are tolerant to several herbicides at the same time, even more toxic and dangerous. One of them is Monsanto's RR2 XTend soy, which is tolerant of glyphosate and dicamba, another high-risk pesticide.
This soybean and the toxic cocktail that accompanies it, began to be used in the United States in 2016 and is already the cause of strong conflicts, because dicamba kills or damages much more than the herbs in the field where it is applied: due to drift, it has also damaged crops from other fields, including those of farmers who plant GM soybeans from earlier versions, not tolerant to dicamba. Dicamba is a powerful pesticide that can kill vegetable, fruit, ornamental and even tree crops. In addition to its toxicity, it has high volatility, but according to Monsanto, the Xtend soy formulation is low volatility.
However, the damage to crops from using this soybean with dicamba has been unleashed in Arkansas, Missouri, Tennessee, Iowa and new reports are coming out all the time in more states, which has generated from serious conflicts between farmers - even one death - to legal and insurance lawsuits, which in turn, do not want to assume the damages.
Arkansas banned the use of dicamba in July and several other states have switched to stricter regulation, farmers say nearly impossible to enforce. Six industrial farms in Arkansas began legal action at the end of July 2017 against Monsanto, Basf and DuPont Pioneer, which are the ones who sell the pesticides that Xtend soy requires.
Brazil and Paraguay have already approved the planting of dicamba-tolerant soybeans. In Mexico, the planting of transgenic cotton tolerant to glyphosate, dicamba, glufosinate and insecticide was approved in the same plant, a clear example of the evolution of transgenics: they need more and more toxins.
For the health of each and everyone and that of the environment on which we depend, for the peasant economies that provide us with healthy food, these high-risk crops should be prohibited, which also only benefit transnational corporations.
* ETC Group Researcher