Monsanto is the developer of both RoundUp weed killer (an “herbicide”) and a suite of crops that are genetically altered to withstand being sprayed with it. These genetically engineered crops, introduced into our food in the 1990s and 2000s, have the unique ability to withstand increasing doses of the weed killer and are known as “RoundUp Ready.” In other words, it helps them sell more chemicals.

Since the introduction of these genetically engineered crops, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) data reveals that between 2001 and 2007, as much as 185 million pounds of glyphosate was used by U.S. farmers, double the amount used six years ago.

So in the past, where we may have been getting a sprinkling of this chemical on our food crops prior to the introduction of RoundUp Ready crops, with the recent introduction of genetically engineered foods, designed to withstand this signature product, the doses are at unprecedented levels.

What is this product doing to us?

Glyphosate, found in RoundUp, is the world’s most popular herbicide and is designed to kill pests and insects, anything but the genetically engineered “RoundUp Ready” plants, such as genetically engineered corn, soy, beet, cottonseed and canola.

These genetically engineered crops, including GE corn, soybeans, canola and sugar beets are planted on millions of acres in the United States annually and widely and generously in the U.S. food supply, particularly processed foods, without labels.

When these crops were first introduced in the late 1990s and early 2000s, it was conjectured that farmers would like them because they could spray RoundUp weed killer directly on the crops to kill weeds in the fields without harming the crops. And they did. But about three planting cycles in, it appears that Mother Nature has Monsanto figured out and it is now reported that over half of the farmers using these products are experiencing a resistance to the chemical company’s signature product and suffering from what are known as “superweeds” in their fields.

It was not only the unknown impact of environmental and crop disruption that caused countries around the world to exercise precaution around the use of these chemicals, it was also the uncertainty of the long-term impact that these crops and the chemical products applied to them would have on both the environment, soil, a developing fetus or human health that resulted in their use being banned in 27 countries around the world and labeled in 64 more.

In light of the study out of MIT, this precautionary measure seems well-founded, as with the approval of every new RoundUp Ready crop, there is a 2–5 time increase in the amount of glyphosate that is applied. And while that may help drive profitability for the chemical industry, there are social costs: lost yields in food production and any health care costs that may be associated with the harm that these chemicals might cause.

The authors of the MIT report are concerned that RoundUp, for which these genetically engineered crops are named, and the chemical used in it, glyphosate, are contributing to diseases as far-ranging as inflammatory bowel disease, cancer, infertility, cystic fibrosis, cancer, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease, going so far as to suggest that it “…may be the most biologically disruptive chemical in our environment.”

According to Green Med:

“The researchers identified the inhibition and/or disruption of cytochrome P450 (CYP) enzymes as a hitherto overlooked mechanism of toxicity associated with glyphosate exposure in mammals. CYP enzymes are essential for detoxifying xenobiotic chemicals from the body. Glyphosate therefore enhances the damaging effects of other food borne chemical residues and environmental toxins. The researchers also showed how interference with CYP enzymes acts synergistically with disruption of the biosynthesis of aromatic amino acids by gut bacteria (e.g. tryptophan), as well as impairment in serum sulfate transport, a critical biological system for cellular detoxification (e.g. transulfuration pathway which detoxifies metals).”

In working with plant biologists, I have learned that glyphosate kills weeds by turning off key enzymes that produce defense mechanisms for plants. It essentially targets and destroys their immune systems by chelating, stripping, micronutrients like magnesium, copper and zinc from the plant. As a result, there are fewer of these key micronutrients in the plants and in our food supply.

This effect, according to the researchers, can contribute to causing or worsening “…most of the diseases and conditions associated with a Western diet, which include gastrointestinal disorders, obesity, diabetes, heart disease, depression, autism, infertility, cancer and Alzheimer’s disease.”

This isn’t the first time we’ve heard this. It picks up on a previous Reuter’s article that was titled “Cancer Cause or Crop Aid?”