This week, reports in two highly respected medical journals—the Lancet and the New England Journal of Medicine—agree that weed killers used with genetically modified crops (commonly known as GMOs), such as corn and soybeans, cause cancer.  These reports arrive amidst a controversy that has raged ever since the introduction of GMOs into general use.

In March 2015, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), a highly respected agency based in Lyon, France, reported that a chemical glyphosate (used in the weedkiller Roundup®) probably causes cancer in humans (classification 2A). It was noted that glyphosate produces DNA and chromosome damage. IARC also noted that 2-4D, a component of Agent Orange, possibly causes cancer.

Despite this scientific finding, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 2014 approved a pesticide called Enlist Duo, a new combination of glyphosate + 2-4D, for use as a weed killer to overcome resistance to Roundup®. This is to be marketed in tandem with newly approved seeds resistant to this weed killer combination.

The editorial in last week’s NEJM strongly emphasizes the dangers of this approach and the flawed science behind the decision to approve Enlist Duo. Two recommendations are made by the authors, Philip J. Landrigan, M.D. from the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City and Charles Benbrook, PhD from Washington State University in Pullman. First, they recommend delaying the decision to approve Enlist Duo until further studies and review can occur. In addition, they argue that the safety of Roundup® (glyphosate alone) should be re-evaluated. Problems with the use of glyphosate have emerged around the globe, including in Argentina, a major producer of GMO soybeans using Roundup.®

In 64 countries, the labeling of foods produced with GMO crops is required due to health concerns, but not in the US. The NEJM editorial authors recommend that it is time to revisit this issue and that labeling be considered in the US. Many consumers insist on the right to know. With this recent re-affirmation of the potentially very dangerous exposure to toxic chemicals linked to GMO crops, there is a strong right to know. Any such labeling should be introduced along with the need for decisive studies to evaluate safety.

So why is this all so important for myeloma patients? The toxic chemicals involved are definitely linked to the occurrence of what are called “lymphoid cancers,” which includes myeloma. These are the chemicals included in Agent Orange and part of the toxic mix which occurred during exposures at the 9/11 event. 

The awareness of possible toxic exposures from foods has led to an increasing demand for fresh, safe ingredients. I recommend that myeloma patients be part of that trend! Now is the time to pay attention to what careful scientists are saying as they report their results. In addition, there is a renewed need to explain risks of chemical exposure to another vulnerable population – pregnant women.

I will definitely continue to assess further research results and decisions from IARC, EPA, FDA, and/or other government agencies. Stay tuned!

Dr. Durie sincerely appreciates and reads all comments left here. However, he cannot answer specific medical questions and encourages readers to contact the trained IMF InfoLine staff instead. Specific medical questions posted here will be forwarded to the IMF InfoLine. Questions sent to the InfoLine are answered with input from Dr. Durie and/or other scientific advisors and IMWG members as appropriate, but will not be posted here. To contact the IMF InfoLine, call 800-452-CURE, toll-free in the US and Canada, or send an email to infoline@myeloma.org. InfoLine hours are 9 am to 4 pm PT. Thank you.

 

Comments

Gene transcription is the body's way of activating its defense against environmental stress. When animals experience stress...then exposed to infection or contaminants...the cell creates "NEW" proteins that help the body combat it. We use molecular technology, quantitative PCR, to identify gene transcription.
I suggest you compare gene transcription differences of MM patients who have gone into full remission. Focus in particular on 14 genes associated with health and the immune system. You may want to call Dr. Liz Bowen of the USGS and mention the U.S. Geological Survey decoding Polar Bears.

Dear Elliot,

Thank you so much for this important insight. I completely agree that this type of investigation of the “transcriptome” can be extremely valuable! We know, for example, that exposure to benzene leaves a “molecular fingerprint” in the DNA which can be detected at the level of transcription. Assessing the different transcription patterns can indeed help fingerprint environmental exposures and stress factors.

I will try to reach Dr. Liz Bowen at USGS.

aren't most crops treated with Round Up or the equivalent? What's th difference between these crops and those grown from GMO SOURCES?

Dear Sarah,

Thank you for your question. You raise a very important point: perhaps THE key point about GMO crops.

The GMO crops are engineered to tolerate very high doses of weed killers. So this means that farmers can and do use weed killers very liberally. This results in the corn and soybeans, for example, being deeply impregnated with these chemicals. Over time there is a need for more and more potent weed killers or combinations like the “DUO” product I mention, which would also saturate the crops. The food products coming from the crops contain the weed killers.

Other farmers who do not use GMO crops do not need or use weed killers and/or are much, much more scrupulous about the use of any chemicals. Truly organic farmers avoid chemicals.

There is therefore a huge difference. GMO crops are seriously contaminated with chemicals. This is the central problem. There are other controversial issues about the crops themselves. One troubling issue is that there can be “transpollenation” whereby GMO crops can sterilize the growth of non-GMO crops in nearby fields. In addition, the comparative true food value of GMO crops versus natural crops has come under scrutiny. Further research is needed to assess this aspect.

Hopefully this clarifies this issue.

Are any GMO crops produced without these weed killers? Or are these weed killers present for all GMO crops?

Dear Julie,

Thank you for your question. Please see my answer to Sarah above. The key aspect of GMO crops is that they allow use of high levels of weed killers which are always used to maximize the crop yields. As noted above, this is a concern in terms of chemical contamination of the crops.

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