SF Natural Areas Program, Roundup and Birth Defects

Someone sent us a paper published May 2010 in the journal, Chemical Research in Toxicology. It linked glyphosate to birth defects in vertebrates. We’d like people who have assumed that Roundup’s problems come mainly from its surfactant POEA to take a look. (This is not to say POEA is harmless. That has been implicated in embryonic cell death also, in a 2008 French study published in the same journal.)

In Argentina, glyphosate (the active ingredient of Roundup) is widely used on soybean. In soybean-growing areas, there were reports of increased birth defects of a particular type: malformed heads, eyes, and brains. A groups of researchers therefore decided to investigate whether glyphosate could indeed cause that type of birth defect.

From the paper "Glyphosate-Based Herbicides Produce Teratogenic Effects on Vertebrates by Impairing Retinoic Acid Signaling" by Alejandra Paganelli, Victoria Gnazzo, Helena Acosta, Silvia L. Lopez, and Andres E. Carrasco

The abstract of the article indicates that Roundup increased retinoic acid activity in vertebrate embryos, causing “neural defects and craniofacial malformations.

Women of child-bearing age should be especially careful. The most vulnerable period, according to the paper, is in the first 2-8 weeks of pregnancy. Many people don’t even know they’re pregnant that early on. Furthermore, even the mature placenta is permeable to glyphosate. After 2.5 hours of perfusion, 15% of it crosses over.

Heartbreaking

The actual article, which we read elsewhere describes some of the birth defects: microcephaly (tiny head); microphthalmia (tiny undeveloped eyes); impairment of hindbrain development; cyclopia (also called cyclocephaly – a single eye in the middle of the forehead); and neural tube defects. These are quite devastating. Many fetuses do not come to term, and many babies with these conditions die within hours or days.

It’s particularly important now that this herbicide is being used on Twin Peaks in the “natural areas” (which are above a lot of residential areas) and also in the city-owned part of Sutro Forest, the Interior Green Belt.  Mount Sutro Stewards are working there now to build the “Stanyan Historic Trail.”

Roundup is also one of the herbicides the Mount Sutro Stewards and UCSF plan to use in the forest, in the high ground above residential areas, to prevent regrowth of felled eucalyptus trees, also blackberry and vines.

For the record, UCSF is not currently using Roundup on Mount Sutro, neither in the forest (since 2008), nor  in the Aldea student housing (since September 2009). We’re particularly glad of this decision since Aldea houses young people, including possibly pregnant women.

[ETA3: We would like to clarify that this not to imply that the Sutro Stewards rather than UCSF are using Roundup on Mount Sutro. They are not. No herbicides are currently being used in the Open Space Reserve. However, at public meetings, members of the Stewards have advocated for herbicide use in connection with UCSF’s Plan for Mount Sutro. We would expect that if herbicides are indeed used, they will be applied by staff or contractors.]

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Edited to add: In response to this post, someone sent us a copy of an interview with one of the authors, Andres E. Carrasco, in which he describes efforts to intimidate and physically threaten him when he first publicized this research.

“It was a violent, disproportionate, dirty reaction”, he said. “I hadn’t even discovered anything new, only confirmed conclusions that others had reached. One has to remember, too, that the study originated in contacts with communities that have suffered the impact of agro-chemicals. They are the undeniable proof of the impact.”

ETA 2: There’s an article at a site called Truthout that details the Roundup story in Argentina … and also notes that studies show “that Roundup and glyphosate is more toxic than the regulators will admit.” It says that scientists across the globe have been intimidated, lost their jobs, or faced smear campaigns when they published results indicating toxicity:  “Carrasco is not the first scientist to face intimidation after challenging the biotech industry, although he is the first to be threatened with violence.

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