We welcome Dr. Stephanie Seneff, a Senior Research Scientist at MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, for an in-depth (and sometimes slightly technical) conversation on the subject of glyphosate, the world's most popular herbicide.
Marketed as Roundup by Monsanto, and most famously used in combination with Roundup Ready® GMO crops, glyphosate is officially considered to be of minimal risk to human beings when used as directed. But is that really true? After several years of research - drawing upon studies into the effects of glyphosate on animals, and persuasive statistical correlations between the increase in glyphosate usage and the upsurge in various human illnesses, most notably autism - Dr. Seneff reaches a conclusion very different from the official line: Glyphosate, she believes, is a major risk to human health and needs to be removed from our environment as soon as possible.
Transcribed by Sarah Brand. Proofread by Mark Campbell
Stephanie Seneff: I’m delighted to be here. Thank you for inviting me.
JC: Now, it’s very good to be speaking with you, and I’m very much hoping we’re going to be having a more relaxed conversation than we might have had a few weeks ago when I first contacted you, because then you were abroad, and you were, you said to me, doing some talks at the time, so it might not have been quite so relaxed as I hope it will be today. Anyway, thanks ever so much for agreeing to spend time with us now. Now, I’m going to be asking you specifically today about your research into this substance called glyphosate, which is the active ingredient in the herbicide Roundup, which I’m sure people will be more familiar with because of its use in connection with GM crops, and of course the serious concerns that you have about its effects on human health. But I think one question that I’d like to start with—because I suspect this will have come up in people’s minds given the introduction I just said—is how is it that you as a scientist working in computer science and artificial intelligence turn out to be working in this area of environment, toxicants and human health?
SS: It is indeed quite a transition and it happened over the past seven or eight years. About seven or eight years ago, I started to notice this alarming rise in the rate of autism in the United States, which I saw as an exponential growth. It worried me, and I was especially worried because it didn’t look like other people were looking into environmental practice. Most of the research was directed towards genetics. Things that go up exponentially are not genetic, and so I felt it was paramount that somebody should try to find out what are the environmental chemicals that might be causing what I perceived as a looming epidemic, and of course I was right. It has continued to go up exponentially, and if you project that exponential curve into the future, you will find that half the children born in 2032 will end up on the autism spectrum according to that trend line, so this is very scary to me. You know, in less than 20 years from now we’ll have half the child population with autism. It’s not, of course, tenable, it will completely derail the school system for one thing, and certainly cause huge healthcare costs and whatnot, so we need to figure this out as soon as possible. And once we’ve figured it out we need to stop whatever it is that’s causing it.
Now, I have computer science skills that allow me to do interesting analyses of literature, analyses of databases. I looked at the VAERS [Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System] Database, found some interesting associations with vaccines. I worked for probably five or six years on this topic, gaining a very deep understanding of the complexities of autism – it’s a very difficult and complex disease – but still frustrated because I hadn’t found any chemicals that could explain some of the features I was seeing in autism. And that was when I heard a talk by Professor Don Huber, who is a retired professor from Padua University, an expert in plant physiology and plant pathology, and he laid out how glyphosate, which is Roundup, could be causing gut dysbiosis, an imbalance in the gut bacteria, which was something that was very clear was going on in autism, and so I really perked up when I heard that. And then it turned out other things that he said in his talk explained other features of autism that I was puzzled about, and once I heard that talk I basically dropped everything else I was doing and started studying glyphosate as much as possible, finding and poring over all the research literature. I linked up with Anthony Samsel, who is also an expert on glyphosate, and he and I have written a couple of papers now, and a third paper is about to appear on the links between glyphosate and manganese – manganese disruption in the body – so it’s been quite a journey. It wasn’t what I had expected to be doing at this point in my life, but I feel compelled because I think that we are facing a crisis.
JC: That trend line that you were talking about, am I right in thinking that back in the 1970s it was a very small percentage of the population that was affected by autism? Was it something like one in ten thousand?
SS: That’s right.
JC: Yeah. Well, we’re coming back to autism in a few minutes. But I think we need to get our heads around this substance glyphosate itself, and I’d like to ask you that in relation to genetically engineered crops, because I also understand it’s not exclusively used in connection with GM crops, but that does seem to be the context in which it’s mostly used, so could you give us a kind of brief introduction to GM crop technology and how glyphosate fits into that picture.
SS: Yes, when they talk about GM, they like to advertise the nice things, like modifying rice to include vitamin A and things like that. And they say how wonderful this is, that we can improve the quality of the crop. But most of the GMOs that are out there involve either resistance to a herbicide, or they’ve got a DNA coding for a toxin that’s produced by a bacteria that will kill insects. So it’s either the plant itself that will kill the insects because it’s producing the toxin, or the plant can be sprayed with glyphosate and won’t die. And it’s the latter that is really a huge problem, because this means that the plant soaks it up. And the person spraying doesn’t have to be careful about avoiding the plant, which makes it very easy to control the weeds; you just fly the airplane over the crops and spray it everywhere, and it gets into the food chain. But no-one’s bothering to look, because everyone thinks it’s safe. So it’s a very, very insidious situation that we’re in, where we don’t know how much glyphosate is in our food. We can assume it’s there, and certainly the EPA has a huge list of foods that have regulations on what’s the upper limit that’s allowed, so clearly they know it’s there. They change those limits when they find that it exceeds it. So, instead of saying: “Oh my gosh! You’ve exceeded our safety limit,” they say: “Oh yes, you’ve exceeded our safety limit, let’s raise the limit so that you won’t next time we look.” You know.
JC: Yeah. And you say that the crops actually absorb this material?
SS: Yes, they soak it up and they don’t die, and so it gets into the seed, it gets into the food. It’s been shown for example in GMO soy. There was a study that was done and it compared organic soy, conventional soy, where the herbicide glyphosate was used to control the weeds, and then GMO Roundup-ready, and they had ten samples of each, and only the Roundup-ready soy had glyphosate in it in measurable amounts, and those amounts were exceeding even a limit that [Roundup manufacturer] Monsanto had said would be extremely high.
JC: So what crops are we talking about? Obviously about corn and soy, and is there anything else?
SS: Yes. Corn, soy, canola, sugar beats, alfalfa, cotton and tobacco.
JC: Those are the main ones?
SS: Yes, that’s the exhaustive list. There was GMO Roundup-ready wheat they tried to release, but the farmers didn’t want it. I think they were afraid of it, so that exists but has not been marketed. I’m sure they’re developing other ones now as I speak, but I don’t know what they are. They focused on the core crops, the ones that are feeding into the processed food industry, because the US lives off of these very few crops. We have a very strange view towards food in our country that you only need corn and soy to survive, it seems. They really enjoy these processed foods, these soy bars, soy drinks and whatnot, corn chips, you know.
JC: Soy is certainly advertised as being a very healthy thing to consume, isn’t it?
SS: I know, and that annoys me! [Laughs]
JC: So this has been going on for quite some time, hasn’t it, because, am I right in thinking that Monsanto patented glyphosate back in the 1970s?
SS: Yes, in fact it was earlier patented as an anti-microbial agent and as a chelating agent, which means that it binds to metals and makes them unavailable [for chemical reactions], and those are both important in the consideration of its toxicity when we discuss that later on, and then it was patented when they discovered that it killed plants. In fact it kills all plants except for those few that have been engineered to avoid it, and that’s pretty impressive in itself. It kills plants and it kills microbes. I think the claim that it’s quite non-toxic to humans is false. Yes, the patent ran out in 2000 and then of course it started to become even more widely available because the price dropped. China makes huge amounts of glyphosate. I think they make the most now. These days it’s actually manufactured in China.
JC: I thought that China was quite resistant to GMO technology?
SS: I think they have a bigger fight than we do. I think they’ve embraced it less well. They have the same problem that we do in that there’s a strong pressure from the industry to get China to embrace it, but China’s fighting back, so it’s going to be interesting to see where that ends up.
JC: So nowadays would you say it’s the number one herbicide in the world?
SS: It definitely is, and it’s by far the number one in the United States, and the United States uses by far the most, so 25% of the world’s market is in the US, and we certainly don’t have 25% of the world’s population.
JC: And it doesn’t just get used for GMOs, does it? You can just buy it at the hardware store, can’t you? And I understand also that it can be used for something called crop ‘desiccation’. Can you tell us what that’s all about?
SS: Yes, this was something that I only found out later. When I first started looking, I didn’t imagine that that could be true, and I got interested in gluten intolerance because it was clear to me that there was a sudden epidemic in the United States. I don’t know what it’s like in the UK, but this gluten intolerance just appeared out of nowhere, and you started getting these gluten-free sections in all the grocery stores. All different kinds of gluten-free foods became available on the market, and when you look at the data, celiac disease—which is gluten intolerance—is going up astronomically in step with the use of glyphosate on wheat. Glyphosate is used on wheat right before the harvest in order to desiccate it. You know the plant dies of course because it isn’t GMO, but that’s what they want. They’re about to harvest the seed, they let the plant die and that reduces the residue, which makes it easier for the combine harvester to gather the seed, and it also gets a head start on next year’s weeds, and also apparently makes the soil more suitable for no-till farming. No-till farming is really catching on. People have been advocating that as a sound method. An ecological sound method of farming is to not till the soil, and instead basically you have to kill the weeds chemically, and you do that before you harvest the crop, which I find asinine, but you know…[Laughs]
JC: That’s the thing, isn’t it? That’s absolutely incredible. Is that necessary to do it that way do you think?
SS: I can’t imagine that it’s necessary. I think everything’s about convenience, and then when you think something is harmless, you don’t see why you shouldn’t do it. And it’s always the measure of cost effectiveness, and of course labour is expensive, so anything that can reduce labour costs. When you’re not thinking in terms of poisoning your population, when you’re not even considering that aspect of the problem, you think it’s fine, you know.
JC: I’ve noticed that this desiccation business seems to be the cause of quite a lot of glyphosate in foodstuffs in the UK. I mean according to GM Freeze, they were looking at . . .well there was a study from 2012 where they were looking at cereal bars and bread – I won’t mention the particular companies involved because they might have changed their practices by now – and there was glyphosate turning up in those particular products, and in the particular chart that I saw it was mentioned ‘desiccation’, ‘desiccation’, ‘desiccation’…I thought, good heavens! What you’ve just said, that seemingly unnecessary doing it before the harvest, is actually going on, and apparently compromising our foodstuffs here in the UK.
SS: Right, and of course it seems to be causing kidney failure in many parts of the world. In Sri Lanka, India and Central America they have had an alarming problem with kidney failure in young agricultural workers, and it’s correlated with the desiccation on the sugar cane crop. It’s definitely linked to glyphosate, and there’ve been papers written on that, that the glyphosate seems to be the reason why these people are getting kidney failure.
JC: And as I said before, you can actually go and get it from the hardware store just to use on weeds or something on your own property. Are there any cases of people being poisoned because of that?
SS:Definitely. In fact, I think my own sister’s an example. She bought Roundup and was using it to kill weeds in her yard and she started to develop a kind of neuropathy, so I explained to her this link, and of course she stopped using Roundup and she got better, so in her case she was able to recover. But I suspect there are many people who are suffering from conditions that they don’t realise are due to their careless handling of Roundup in their yard. It’s astonishing to me that we allow people to just go down to the hardware store, even pregnant women. A pregnant woman could go buy some Roundup and put it on her yard and breathe it in, which could be devastating for her infant, and she would have no clue that she might be damaging her child. People’s lack of awareness in thinking it’s pretty harmless makes it so deadly.
JC: One of the other things you point to is this business of superweeds, which is leading agribusiness to experiment with perhaps even more dangerous herbicides. So how does the use of glyphosate promote the proliferation of these so-called superweeds?
SS: Yes, this is a really interesting story, because when they first introduced glyphosate, the GMO Roundup-ready crops, in the late 1990s, the thought was that this was going to be wonderful, because it would reduce the requirement for herbicides. It turned out to do the exact opposite, as you can see from the charts. Fortunately, the United States does keep data on glyphosate usage on corn and soy crops, and we have done a lot of correlations. I’ve worked with Nancy Swanson on this, and we’ve come up with many different diseases that are rising in frequency in the United States in step with the rise in the use of glyphosate on these corn and soy crops. So what happens really is the same thing as with antibiotics: the weeds get clever and they figure out how to acquire a resistance to the Roundup themselves when they’re exposed to huge amounts. And then you have to put more in to kill them, so you just have to increase the toxicity in order to kill these resistant weeds, and they’ve been doing this now steadily over the past 10, 15 years, and now they’ve reached a point where they realise they’re going to have to use so much glyphosate, and even using so much glyphosate these superweeds just don’t die. They’re going to have to add an alternative herbicide on top of the Roundup to treat these weeds, and the way they can do that is to design a GMO resistance to these other herbicides, and this includes 2,4-D and Kamba, both of which are considered to be much more toxic than Roundup.
JC: This kind of experimentation on these alternative herbicides is going on I understand in Hawaii – you have a lot of connections with Hawaii – and I read somewhere that companies like Dupont, Pioneer, Syngenta, Dow and BASF – not Monsanto I notice in that list – are developing these GM crops to be resistant to these other herbicides. What kind of environmental effects is that having in Hawaii?
SS: Yes, it’s devastating. In fact I think Hawaii is Ground Central, and that’s why I’ve been devoting quite a bit of my time there giving talks on glyphosate, which is what I was doing when you contacted me. Monsanto is present in Hawaii, but just not in Kauai. Kauai is where I have a home, so Monsanto has a presence in Maui, and in fact there’s the Maui miracle, which just happened, and is the only good news out of the last election in America. They put a bill on the ballot for a vote that would declare a moratorium on growing GMO crops in Maui County. So it’s a county-level bill, to declare a moratorium until studies could be done to show that it is in fact not harming the population. So this would have required—which is wonderful—actual studies of humans and their health issues in relationship to their proximity to these fields where they’re putting all these toxic chemicals. Kauai is where I have a home, and they had another initiative a year or two ago, which I was very heavily involved with—Bill 2491—and it got passed also. So it’s actually pretty amazing that these counties are getting these bills passed by the population. And Kauai is where there is not a Monsanto presence.
But there are all these other companies, and the people in Waimea, which is the little town in the middle of all these fields, are getting a lot of health issues that are almost certainly a consequence of being downwind of all these herbicides that are being sprayed. And there’s an accountability issue there, because the new law requires that the companies are accountable—that they say what they’re spraying, where they’re spraying it, when they’re spraying it—so that the people can get themselves out of harm’s way. It’s a very simple request, but of course there’s a huge fight from the company. In relation to the moratorium, Maui County were outspent by the chemical industry 90-1, so the chemical industry spent $90 for every $1 spent on the side of voting this bill in, and they lost. So we’re very, very happy about this. Ninety times the amount of money can’t fix the problem. Of course now there’s a bunch of lawsuits. In both cases, both of these laws are caught up in lawsuits, so the immediate reaction by the industry is to sue, and they just cause you so much trouble that you finally just get so discouraged and so tired of it all that you just give up. This is their mind-set of how they can keep these regulations out.
JC: And you say that people have to dodge the spray effectively. Is it also getting into the water supply?
SS: It is for sure, yes. It’s going into the water, the air, the food. Certainly I recommend anybody listening to this to adopt an organic diet. I try to eat exclusively organic food, certainly at home. Going out it’s much harder because it’s very difficult to get organic food at a restaurant, so I mostly eat at home! [Laughs] You can eat organic food but it’s very difficult to keep it out of your water, especially if you’re living near an agricultural field, and your air, because the wind will blow it in, and you’ll breathe it and that’s going to be very toxic also, so it’s extremely difficult to avoid.
JC: Well, I want to ask you a little bit more about that advice on eating organic a little bit later on; I’ll come back to that. I want to ask you about the toxicity of this substance really, first of all with respect to lab testing. Now, my understanding is that the official position in the US, and I guess here in the UK too, because it’s apparently widely used here as well, is that glyphosate is of negligible risk to human health. It has a certain rating which indicates that possibly there is some risk but it’s extremely low, and indeed the EPA, the US Environmental Protection Agency, said in 1993 that based on dietary exposure studies, and this is their quote: “The agency concluded that the chronic dietary risk posed by glyphosate food uses is minimal.” Now, your investigations obviously challenge that position and you point, in particular, to the research of a guy called Séralini on rats fed with Roundup-ready corn and soy. Can you tell us what his group discovered?
SS: Yes, this was a great study, and in fact I should say that part of the thing is that the Industry defines the rules of how you test, and one of those rules is that if you’re doing animal studies you only have to do it for three months. If you don’t see any problems after three months, you’re done, everything’s good. Séralini did his study for the entire lifetime of the rats. He fed them GMO Roundup-ready corn and soy. He didn’t see any statistically significant differences at three months, so this would confirm that he’s getting the same thing they’re getting – no problem as long as you only look for three months. The problem is that it’s an insidious effect that takes time to develop because it depletes your minerals. One of the key things is that it depletes your minerals and it stresses your liver and kidneys, so eventually you get things like kidney or liver failure. The female rats had massive mammary tumours and statistically a significantly shorter lifespan for the ones that were eating the GMO versus the organic. So, we’re seeing significant damage to these rats, which began to be seen at four months.
JC: At four months! Right. So this will always be not picked up by the industry itself because of that ruling?
SS: That’s right. And there’s another point I should make, which is that another rule of the regulatory process is that you should only test the active ingredient in isolation, that is to say pure glyphosate; so when tests are done by independent studies on Roundup, when the industry’s considering whether Europe should continue to not restrict glyphosate, they throw out studies that are done on Roundup because Roundup is not pure glyphosate. But it turns out that these formulations are designed to increase the toxicity of the active ingredient, and in fact the extra surfactants and adjuvants that are added to the mix can increase the toxicity of the active ingredient by as much as a thousand-fold, so it’s really astonishing to me that they’re not required to test these things in the actual way in which they’re actually used on the crops.
JC: In that case with Séralini, the Roundup-ready corn and soy was actually testing crops that had been sprayed with Roundup, not just glyphosate?
SS: Yes, that’s right—Roundup not glyphosate. So he was testing a more natural setting really, what you would expect to happen in practice, which is not what they’re testing; and in fact the regulations require that that’s not needed, it should be thrown out because it doesn’t follow the rules.
JC: Incredible! Could you also tell us about some studies that have been done on pigs? I understand this is not the same research group, but you certainly spoke in one presentation about some tests on pigs. This is again using Roundup-ready corn and soy, and there were some amazing differences in the size and colour of stomachs in comparison with pigs that were not fed on GM crops.
SS: That’s right, and this is work done by Judy Carman in Australia, and she showed this inflamed gut, which is again of course what autistic kids have, so this is what had perked me up when I heard Don Huber talk. The autistic kids have issues with their gut. A lot of issues with their gut is associated with autism, and these pigs also had issues with their gut, and the female pigs had an enlarged uterus, so she was definitely seeing issues with these pigs. There are also studies that have been done on piglets, and in fact deformed piglets that were born dead, and they were finding glyphosate residue in their urine. So, there’s significant evidence from pigs that they are being harmed by glyphosate in ways that reflect things that are showing up in autism.
JC: And glyphosate was actually found in the muscle tissue, is that right, of pigs?
SS: Yes, it’s found in the muscle tissue. That’s been shown also in chickens, so when you eat chicken meat and the chickens are all fed GMO Roundup-ready feed, you’re eating glyphosate in chicken meat, in the muscles, in the brain, in the spleen. I mean it’s showing up in the organs, and of course also in breast milk in humans. This is actually a really neat study that was done by Moms Across America. Zen Honeycutt is a ‘Mom’, and she took the initiative to do this study, and found significant levels of glyphosate in breast milk, in fact 1,600 times higher. In the worst case 1,600 times higher than the level allowed in water in Europe was in the breast milk.
JC: And what about the levels that human beings are consuming when they eat chicken meat, chicken that’s been fed on this kind of feed? Is that going way above in terms of exposure rates?
SS: I don’t know actually. I’m sorry to say, I don’t know what the levels are. I would imagine that you’d be getting more by eating corn and soy that are GM Roundup-ready than you would be by eating chicken meat, but I’m not sure because it could be that they are concentrated in their muscle tissue. You can see that kind of effect on some of the other toxins in the water. Silent Spring, the book written many years ago by Rachel Carson, talked about how these chemicals can become concentrated in certain organs in the animals as you go up the food chain, so we need to know really how much is there in what foods, so we know which foods to avoid, and in the absence of that we have to go a hundred per cent organic.
JC: And you mentioned very, very high rates of correlation in various studies, and you said that you’d been working on celiac disease. Perhaps it would be a good idea to tell us what celiac disease is, and just how close those correlations are.
SS: Right. Celiac disease is a form of gluten intolerance. You can also have gluten intolerance without celiac disease, and this of course means that you can’t eat wheat-based products. In America a lot of wheat is eaten and so that makes it hard for you to avoid eating those products. It’s a complex disease like autism with a lot of different symptoms. Mostly it’s a digestive problem that you cannot break down the wheat. The wheat is a complex protein and your body has trouble breaking it down. You also have a leaky gut so that this unbroken-down protein gets into your blood, and that can cause allergic reactions and things like that. You can get autoimmune responses and things, so it’s a pretty nasty disease and it’s associated with a shortened lifespan, mostly because you have a higher risk to cancer and in particular non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma has also been linked to glyphosate in studies of agricultural workers, so there’s an indirect link that way.
I think glyphosate actually binds to the wheat, and there’s a process with the wheat that usually happens automatically in the wheat that makes it easier for the body to break it down, and that process gets disrupted. We, Anthony Samsel and I, talk about this in our paper. It’s a theoretical approach that we are using based on our knowledge of chemistry that the glyphosate would bind and disrupt a sort of cross-linking activity that’s supposed to take place in the wheat to make it easier to break down.
JC: So what kind of correlation have you found between the increase in celiac disease and the use of glyphosate?
SS: Well, the two curves line up quite well; not quite as well as the line-up between autism rates in the United States and glyphosate usage on corn and soy crops—that one is absolutely amazing. The autism one has a 0.998 correlation co-efficient. 1.0 is the highest you can get. That’s an exact match. The two curves would be exactly matched if it was 1.0. The gluten one – I forget the number – is probably more like .93 or something, so it’s still very high, but not as high as the autism to corn and soy.
JC: So let’s move on to that autism one then. So this correlation that you mentioned at .99, this is looking at data between about 1990-ish, is it, up to 2011? And this is in the US?
JC: Can you sort of explain to us what a .99 correlation means in terms of an alternative explanation, say this happening by chance? What would that mean?
SS: Right, so mathematically you talk about a p-value [probability value]. A significant p-value is anything less than 0.05, so a small p-value means that it is extremely unlikely for a correlation to have occurred just by chance, and the correlation for many of these diseases, the correlations with a rise in glyphosate, have p-values that have several zeros after the decimal point before you get the first significant zero, so 0.0000000 +1 maybe, that kind of thing—extremely small p-values meaning that it’s extremely unlikely to be a chance occurrence.
It’s interesting that the pro-GMO folks like to pound people with the message that correlation doesn’t necessarily mean causation. They’re using that desperately to try to deny this correlation means anything. Nancy Swanson has published a paper where she has all these diseases—it’s quite stunning—including some cancers like pancreatic cancer, thyroid cancer and then all these gut disorders and autism and Alzheimer’s disease and kidney failure, just a huge list of diseases that match well. They’re all going up which is also scary. They’re all going up in incidence in the United States, and they match very well with the rise in glyphosate usage on corn and soy crops. The example that the pro-GMO folks like to use to say: “Oh well, correlation doesn’t always mean causation,” , is they like to show a plot of the rise of organic, which is also rising in step with autism, therefore also in step with glyphosate usage on corn and soy crops. I mean, the thing is, the correlation there makes a lot of sense to me because it is simply that people are getting sick, they’re switching to an organic diet. It’s working, they’re feeling better and they continue to do so, and that’s why we’re getting a growing buy-in on organic food. It’s crazy to me that they would choose that as an example to deny what I’m saying.
JC: Yeah, that seems pure sophistry really, doesn’t it?
SS: Right. Anyone who is trying to find a toxic chemical that is causing some known problem, you wouldn’t look at something that’s going down. So, for example there, you could say, well, maybe lead is causing the autism epidemic, but lead in the environment is going down, so you would immediately rule that one out. You wouldn’t be looking at something that was going down. It has to be something that’s also going up. When you see something that matches perfectly, you’d be foolish not to then start to look. Well, what is the biological mechanism of this toxic chemical, and does it explain the pathology of autism? And when you look you find out that everything works, and then you become absolutely convinced, as I have, that glyphosate is the cause of the epidemic. Not to say that it is the only thing that causes autism, but it is the thing that’s causing the epidemic.
JC: And how does it compare with something like the possible link between, say, cholesterol and heart disease?
SS: Exactly, yes, it’s much, much better. In fact, with cholesterol, if you take the same time plots, and you apply it to cholesterol and heart disease, you can see that in fact cholesterol levels are going up in the United States in recent years. We’ve looked at this data from the CDC’s [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] Hospital Discharge Data. High serum lipids: “Oh, you’ve got high serum LDL, you need to start taking a statin drug.” That’s going up despite the increase in the use of statin drugs, so it should be going up even more sharply if people weren’t taking these statin drugs, and in fact it’s also going up in step with glyphosate usage on corn and soy crops, which is remarkable, and I can actually argue why glyphosate would cause elevated cholesterol. What is not going up at the same time is heart disease. Heart disease is actually going down, slightly down in the United States, despite this alarming rise in LDL. So, if you think about correlation and causation, you cannot argue that high LDL actually causes heart disease on the basis of that, because it is not correlated.
JC: And yet that’s officially accepted to be so.
SS: Right, and of course they’re handing out statin drugs like candy, which I find very, very disturbing also.
JC: So what does the FDA and the EPA and the like make of this .99 correlation that you’ve identified?
SS: As far as I can tell, they’re ignoring it. I mean certainly Anthony has been in constant contact with them, and he barely gets an acknowledgement. Having said that, actually Anthony Samsel has managed to get some materials from them. Anthony is my co-author on these papers, really an amazing guy by the ways, really a fascinating person and very dedicated. He’s managed to get the EPA to release to him some documents from Monsanto that were the studies that were done way back when, that supposedly show that glyphosate is non-toxic; so he’s rummaging through those right now, finding some interesting things. He can’t share those documents with anyone else, but he was able to get the EPA to give those documents to him, so that ‘s a kind of a victory.
JC: You mentioned before the interview that there is, in your view, a connection between glyphosate and vaccines with respect to autism. Could you explain what you mean by that?
SS: Yes, it’s very interesting. As I said, I started looking at vaccines when I first started looking at autism. I looked into the vaccine issue because many parents in America believe that vaccines cause their children’s autism. The pro-vaccine versus anti-vaccine issue is a passionate topic in this country right now. I think those parents are correct, but I think it’s the vaccine working synergistically with the glyphosate, and I had been looking at vaccine adverse reactions from the VAERS Database, which the US maintains through the CDC, a very useful database that reports the events that occur and gives details of what happened during the event. My skills in computer science allow me to analyse this data, and I’ve looked at aluminium in the vaccines and its correlation to autism, which does exist, and then also MMR [Measles, Mumps and Rubella]. MMR also correlates with autism.
MMR is the one that Andrew Wakefield wrote about in The Lancet over there in the UK, and eventually lost his licence, had his paper retracted, and is since now over here in the United States. So, MMR is very interesting because it does not contain aluminium or mercury, though aluminium and mercury are known neurotoxins and people have really been concerned, especially of course about mercury, but aluminium is also very toxic and the aluminium in the vaccines has gone up a lot since 2000 in step with the reduction in mercury. So they reduced the mercury and increased the aluminium, and then said: “Oh well, the autism rates didn’t go up, therefore the mercury didn’t cause it.” But, actually, they kind of did a hot swap because you had the aluminium instead of the mercury. But the bigger problem was that at the same time glyphosate was going up sharply at that same time when they were doing that experiment around 2000/2001, and this is reflected in the VAERS Database. What you see if you look at the MMR reactions after 2002—all the data on MMR after 2002 versus before 2002—you can again do these analyses to see what’s the likelihood that the distribution of adverse events could have occurred by chance, and what you find is that after 2002 there’s a lot more incidences of events of things like seizures, anaphylactic shock and autism.
JC: And those can’t be put down to changes in the vaccines themselves in any way?
SS: Well, I don’t think so, because I think the MMR has not particularly changed since then, and it doesn’t have aluminium and it doesn’t have mercury, so I was very puzzled about the MMR actually. I understood that Wakefield thought it was causing autism. I confirmed that it’s associated with autism. Autistic kids are much more likely to have an adverse reaction to MMR than non-autistic kids for one thing, so there’s something going on between MMR and autism. Several things puzzled me, but certainly why were they getting seizures and anaphylactic shock in response to a vaccine that did not contain either mercury or aluminium? I think I have finally found that answer, and I only found that answer very recently, and I think the answer’s glutamate. Glutamate is actually present in only a few of the vaccines, but this includes MMR, varicella (which is chicken pox), rabies and then a flu vaccine. All these contain glutamate. Glutamate is a known neurotoxin, but usually the body can handle it because it will convert it to glutamine using an enzyme called glutamine synthase that depends upon manganese. So this gets a little complicated, but the problem is that glyphosate, I’m suspecting, severely depletes the availability of manganese, and that means that you can’t detoxify the glutamate.
JC: Actually this is very interesting, because this does bring me on to my next question, which is the toxicity of glyphosate from a kind of theoretical point of view rather than from a lab-testing point of view. My understanding is that glyphosate interferes with plant biology, and therefore can work as a herbicide, but the official wisdom goes that it doesn’t interfere with human biology, and so it’s quite safe for us to use in a human context. But from what you’ve just said, this indicates that you don’t agree with that. Can you explain why you don’t agree with that?
SS: No, I certainly don’t agree with that. I think it’s one of those things where you can say: “Well, something causes X, and X is not something humans have, and therefore it’s something safe.” But if you don’t mention that it also causes Y, Z and W, you’re missing a large part of the story. So they’re focusing on this one pathway called the shikimate pathway, which is indeed found in plants, but not in humans. Humans themselves don’t have the shikimate pathway, and there are several reasons why even if that was the only thing it did, it still would not be non-toxic to humans, and that’s because our gut bacteria does have the shikimate pathway, and the shikimate pathway is absolutely essential to them in order for them to produce these acids. Of course that’s the same problem with the plants— that’s why the plants die, because they can’t make these really important aromatic amino acids. Now they’re crucial to our health.
This is one of the things we’re really waking up and realizing in the last few years, and there have been a lot of delightful papers looking into the gut microbes. Now, all of a sudden, they realize these guys are really, really important to our health, and when they get out of whack, we get sick, and glyphosate preferentially kills the beneficial bacteria leaving room for the pathogens to overgrow, and that’s how you get the inflammatory gut, the leaky gut, and then you get autoimmune disease. I mean a lot of things follow from that, and you get into toxins in the brain and then these neurological disorders. But the shikimate pathway produces these aromatic amino acids and those are essential to us precisely because we don’t have that pathway, so we depend upon our microbes to make those products for us, and those amino acids are precursors to incredibly important human molecules like serotonin, dopamine, melatonin, thyroid hormone, folate and melanin. I mean these are all really, really important molecules in our body that are derived from the product of the shikimate pathway that is produced by our gut microbes; so you can see how lack of shikimate pathway would lead to disease in humans.
JC: Yeah, so am I right in thinking that these are enzymes like, is it, tryptophan and tyrosine?
SS: You are right, you are exactly right.
JC: And so if our gut bacteria are not producing those, then that gives us this lack, so we have things like obesity, autism and Alzheimer’s because of that lack?
SS: Exactly. For example, Serotonin deficiency is linked to depression, it’s linked to autism, it’s linked to obesity and then there’s melatonin deficiency, which is linked to sleep disorder, and sleep disorder is linked to all of these neurological diseases. Sleep disorder is also an epidemic in our country going up in step with glyphosate usage on corn and soy crops. So, you need the melatonin to sleep, but you need the shikimate pathway to produce the melatonin.
JC: Is that also something to do with this – and I don’t even know whether I can even pronounce it correctly! – cytochrome P450? [Laughs]
SS: You’re very good, that’s right. And we call them ‘Sype’ enzymes, which is kind of a really cute nickname for ‘CYP’. CYP enzymes are really, really important enzymes throughout the body, but especially in the liver. The liver has a whole bunch of CYP enzymes, and it uses them for many different purposes, one of which is to detoxify other environmental chemicals. Glyphosate has been shown to disrupt the CYP enzymes in rat studies in the liver, so that means you will be more sensitive to the other toxic things that you are exposed to, because you can’t metabolise them.
So, for example, Tylenol has been implicated in autism. If a child gets a vaccine and takes a Tylenol to cut the fever, the child can’t then get rid of the Tylenol, can’t metabolise it, because of the lack of the CYP enzyme activity, and that can cause autism. Papers have been written about that. But what they don’t realise is that the glyphosate is what’s causing the defective CYP enzyme. It’s also used in the liver to activate vitamin D, and we have a vitamin D deficiency epidemic in America as well today, which, I think, is due to an inability to activate it in the liver by a CYP enzyme, and CYP enzymes are also important for producing the bile acids, and we have a lot of issues in the United States with impaired bile flow, which is causing some gall bladder issues and of course digestive issues, because the bile acids are really important for the health of the gut. Those are produced by the liver and then they’re shipped out, temporarily stored in the gall bladder, and shipped out to the intestines, and they’re basically providing a bunch of nutrients to the microbes, which will keep them healthy as well, so the fact that the bile acids aren’t flowing becomes an issue for the microbes as well.
JC: And also infertility? You mentioned sperm construction.
SS: Fertility, right. In fact the manganese deficiency plays in there too, because manganese is needed by the sperm to produce their flagella, so that the sperm become immobile and if the sperm can’t swim, then you’re going to have fertility issues because of the manganese deficiency induced by glyphosate.
JC: So do you think there’s a likely link then between the global problem in sperm construction and this increased use in glyphosate?
SS: I do think so, and there are other things too. They’ve done studies on other cells that support the sperm, like nerve cells for the sperm, and they’ve shown that glyphosate is very toxic to them, so I think there are going to be a lot of issues. Also glyphosate disrupts the synthetase, or aromatase, which convert testosterone to oestrogen, and that probably plays a role in autism as well. Autism is known to have aromatase deficiency, so aromatase is affected by glyphosate as well.
JC: You also said to me that you’d like to talk about the measles outbreak at Disneyland. Could you tell us what your concerns are there?
SS: Yes, I could. In fact I’m very concerned because of course there’s a big war going on in the United States between the pro-vaccine folks and the anti-vaccine folks. People are very, very polarised over here, and each one, of course, sees the benefits of their side and can’t see the downside of the other person’s point of view. But there was an outbreak of measles that is believed to have begun in Disneyland, and there have been about a hundred cases, but nobody has died. In fact nobody has died from measles, I think, in America over the past ten years. However, there were, I think, close to 100 deaths associated with the MMR vaccine over the past ten years, so actually if you think in terms of saving lives, the vaccine is killing more people than the measles is right now. When I was a kid, you know, measles was a rite of passage, and actually there are several studies that have shown that measles is beneficial. It’s been shown to help with psoriasis, with arthritis (arthritis in children), it’s caused tumours to shrink and go into remission, it’s improved allergy problems; so measles, I think, is actually protective. I believe that.
JC: What, you mean if you actually contract measles, this is healthy?
SS: If you contract the measles, yes, you gain health. I think this is maybe
true for all of the childhood diseases. You know the ones that we used to get, the measles, the mumps, the chicken pox, that used to be a ‘rite of passage’ when I was a child, and I remember the measles—it was wonderful, as I got an excuse to stay at home from school for two weeks because we had a rule, but I didn’t ever feel sick. I had a few spots on my stomach and it was fine. I had a great time, you know! [Laughs]
JC: You probably learned something during that time.
SS: And then it probably cured my allergies – just kidding! – but I think that by suppressing these childhood diseases, we’re disrupting a natural process, and what’s happening instead is that we’re getting all these issues with psoriasis, with allergies, with asthma, with eczema, and of course autism, ADHD, depression, obesity; I mean, all of these problems that American children are facing. Over half of our kids have at least one of these various conditions today. We have sick kids in America, and I believe they’re sick in part because of all these vaccines, which are first of all introducing toxic chemicals that are depleting their defences, depleting their sulphur and getting into their brain and causing lots of problems – the toxic chemicals that are in the vaccines, of course, on top of the glyphosate which is working synergistically with them, and then the lack of those childhood diseases which is making their immune system weak, rather than strong. So basically you’re protecting them against that one bug that you’re immunising them against, but at the expense of a loss of general immunity, and therefore an increase in autoimmune diseases, because you have to increase the activity of the immune system to be able to protect yourself from disease in general.
JC: So you’re talking about this synergistic relationship between glyphosate and these vaccines. Is this going back to what you were talking about—these enzyme deficiencies?
SS: Yes. Well, so I explained the glutamate, which is the lack of the manganese, which prevents you from detoxifying the glutamate. Also, I believe glyphosate opens up the blood-brain barrier, which allows the glutamate to get into the brain, and the same thing is true for the aluminium. I think glyphosate actually escorts the aluminium into the brain, particularly into the pineal gland, which is outside of the blood-brain barrier so is very accessible. It’s been shown that the pineal gland accumulates more than twice as much aluminium as other parts of the brain when the exposure is there.
JC: So, all these adjuvants that people talk about in vaccines, you’re saying that glyphosate is like a limousine, and the adjuvant jumps into the limousine and the glyphosate takes it on a trip through to the brain?
SS: That’s exactly what I’m saying. I like that metaphor; that’s very cute. And then unloads it into the acid environment of the pineal gland – it needs an acid environment to let it go, so it just escorts it and drops it off in a place where it is very dangerous because the pineal gland is very, very important to your health. That’s where the melatonin is made, and then if you don’t have melatonin you have this sleep disorder, and as I said the sleep disorder is linked to all these diseases, including depression by the way. Depression is also an epidemic in America, and violent behaviour. I think that violent behaviour is linked to the serotonin deficiency that’s caused by the glyphosate. That’s well established that serotonin deficiency is linked to violent behaviour, and we’ve had all these school shoot-outs and things like that in this country. We have a lot of people in jail.
JC: There was one thing that you said in one of your presentations, and my ears pricked up immediately when you said it, and that was to do with endocrine disruption. And the reason why I’m bringing this up particularly is because we had a guy called Dr. Frederick vom Saal talking about bisphenol A, which is an endocrine disruptor, he says. So, can you say in what way glyphosate is functioning in a similar kind of way? I mean, he was talking about parts per trillion working, not according to the normal paradigm of toxicology, but you know parts per trillion! Is this the same with glyphosate, you’re saying?
SS: It is indeed, yes, and in fact you know they only study glyphosate at the minimum as parts per million, and then they don’t realize these endocrine disruptors have a U-shaped curve. There’s a point at which there’s a minimum toxicity, but if you go below that, the toxicity starts to go up again; so at very minute amounts they start to behave like endocrine disruptors, because they are imitating hormones that we release, also at these very minute amounts that have very potent effects on certain receptors, and so what has been shown in the case of glyphosate is that at parts per trillion, glyphosate induces breast cancer cells to multiply. So that means it will make a tumour grow, and of course we saw those massive tumours in those rats in Séralini’s experiments, which kind of corroborates that thought.
I actually looked at the data on breast cancer because I was expecting it perhaps to correlate with glyphosate usage on corn and soy crops, and in fact it doesn’t. The breast cancer data is very interesting because going from 1998 to 2010 the breast cancer rates are going down steadily until about 2006, and then they make a U turn and start going back up again. And then we have the data end at 2010, so I would love to know what’s happening in 2011, 2012 etc… You know, I don’t have data for that, but they’re going sharply up until 2010. It turns out that, if you look more closely, if you separate between the whites and the blacks, you find that it’s only the Caucasians who have their rate going down, the blacks are flat up to 2006, whereas the Caucasian rate is going down. And I’m suspecting that it has to do with Hormone Replacement Therapy, because we were very enchanted with HRT to treat menopause, but then it was discovered that it was causing breast cancer. It was causing an alarming increase in breast cancer, so now women are advised not to take HRT, and so I think the number of women exposed to that is going down, and that’s causing this decrease; whereas the glyphosate is causing a superimposed increase. So if you use a simple exponential model to match the data before 2006 on the Caucasians, and then you subtract that model, you then get a new curve that does correlate very well with glyphosate usage on corn and soy crops, so that’s how I would explain the breast cancer. I think glyphosate probably does cause breast cancer.
JC: And that would be to do with these very small parts per trillion levels?
JC: If that’s the case, then presumably, as I said to Frederick vom Saal, any level, even the smallest level of this stuff in our diet, well, we need to get rid of it.
SS: Yes, that’s right. I feel that way.
JC: I wanted to ask you sort of more general questions really about your reflection on the whole situation, because, I mean, do you see this use of glyphosate, this increased use of it, as part of the price we pay for these modern lives that we want to live, with all our technology and the like? I mean, is it possible to make a change without putting the clock back?
SS: I know. This is a very good question, because I certainly feel we need to really assess the situation and decide whether we think it’s worth it to suffer from all these diseases with no end in sight. They’re all getting worse, and they’re going to continue to get worse because we’re at war with these weeds, and we’re losing that war, and what we’re going to do is to poison ourselves more and more over time and get more and more sick, to reach a point in the population with all these issues where anyone who is well is going to spend all their time taking care of sick people. Do we want that path, or would we rather return to more conventional, safer and sustainable styles of agriculture, where we put people back in the fields? We don’t have this very tiny portion of our population doing agriculture. We need to face the fact that we need people working on the farms, because it takes human power to deal with weeds if you’re not just going to spray chemicals to do it, and we need to face the fact that we need to have manpower. It’s not like we can’t do that; it’s not like we can’t feed the world by growing food that way, you know, and we just have to recognise that we’re making a very bad choice here to accept this massive poisoning of the population in exchange for people not having to work in the fields. It’s not an exchange that I would want to take if I had a choice.
JC: Well, I see the logic of that, but then on the other hand is it not possible to say there must be some way of doing what you’ve just suggested without losing everything that we have, that we value, in our technological society? Surely, there must be some way of balancing this in a way that doesn’t sort of throw everything out?
SS: Right, well I certainly think so. You know, I think of all the people who are taking care of all the Alzheimer patients, all the autism kids, all the people with depression, all the violent behaviour, people in prison. I mean, when you think of all these people: people with heart failure, you know, all these ill people, people in wheelchairs who are requiring huge amounts of effort. If you could free them up from those jobs because those people were no longer sick, and you could put those autistic kids to work because they no longer had autism, they could actually contribute to society instead of being a burden. I mean that would be a huge gain in the workforce that would compensate for the fact that you’re not poisoning the population. People would be spending time growing crops instead of spending time taking care of children with autism, you know; it’s a good exchange. I think people would rather grow crops than to have a child with autism, rather than a child that could be a productive member of society.
By the way, I’m also looking into glyphosate’s potential impact on global warming, or global climate change I should say. Right now we have global cooling here in Boston with huge amounts of snow, but I think that glyphosate is a major player. I’m doing research right now and I’m finding a potential role for glyphosate in global climate change because of glyphosate’s disruption of the management of hydrogen in soil, and it turns out that nitrous oxide is actually a much worse greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. It’s estimated to be 300 times worse than carbon dioxide. It’s also estimated to be about 7% of the greenhouse gases present. Seven percent at 300 times comes out to be 22 times more important than carbon dioxide in global climate change. So we should be studying nitrous oxide. I believe that glyphosate and then the use of the nitrogen-based fertilisers, the chemical fertilisers plus the glyphosate, is disrupting the soil in such a way that the nitrogen is not getting fixated into the soil. Carbon is not either, so both the carbon and the nitrogen are compromised by this chemical agricultural approach, such that agriculture is playing a very important role in climate change. So, by reverting back to organic methods in agriculture, we will also be able to improve the situation with regard to global warming.
JC: Certainly, it does say to us that we need to rethink the way in which we’re living our lives; I certainly take that point very clearly. What hope do you think there is, practically, that we can make a change on an individual level, but also on a cultural level? What hope do you see?
SS: You know, I’m picturing, I’m hoping – I do have a hope – and I’m hoping technology might save us.
JC: Ah ha!
SS: What I’m hoping is that technology will allow smart people – chemists and whatnot – to develop devices that will be reasonably cheap, that even people might be able to somehow use their cell phone at the grocery store to probe with some sensors or something, and to be able to probe a cereal box and say: “Oh gosh, this has glyphosate, I’m not buying it.” In other words to have a sensor in your phone that will allow you when you go shopping to just decide what to buy on the basis of what has or does not have glyphosate. And if you simply introduce that into the market, and I think people would really want to buy it, then I think the companies are going to be terrified. They’re going to say, “I’ve got to get the glyphosate out of my food”, right?
SS: Or else people won’t buy it. And all of a sudden they’re going to find a way to deal with the problem.
JC: Well, I’ve been very encouraged by things that I’ve seen with regard to the drinks companies getting rid of—well not completely getting rid of—aspartame, sulphate, but certainly moving over to using stevia, and I presume that’s consumer pressure that’s brought that about, and also BPA-free products seem to be in the supermarkets a great deal these days, and again I presume that’s because people are just not buying those that don’t say ‘BPA-free’. So it certainly works.
SS: Yeah, consumer demand; I think consumer demand is the answer. The Government is unfortunately so in bed with the industry that it doesn’t seem like they are willing to respond at all, which I find very, very disturbing, but I have accepted it, you know. I feel that political pressure is just a waste of time almost; I’m so discouraged.
JC: On your website you have a link to this article of a former Monsanto employee put in charge of GMO papers at the Food and Chemical Toxicology journal, a guy called Richard Goodman, that has the revolving door there straight away.
SS: Yes, exactly. I think they’re controlling the media, they’re controlling the governments, and they’re controlling the research. I mean it’s very sad, but that’s the world we face today. It’s a strange world we live in, and I really hope the future is brighter. I mean, I really hope people are going to wake up and change their ways, and I do think it’s going to happen grassroots, consumer-driven; I think that’s the solution. That also empowers the individual, so anyone who is listening to this recording can make a commitment to buy organic, you know, and that’s just one person’s vote, but it counts. Voting with your pocket book really counts.
JC: Yeah, and if we do that on an individual level, can we actually kick this glyphosate out of our system, or are we sort of just stuck with what we have, and we have to live with that and it’s not getting any worse, or can we just kick out the whole lot?
SS: Yeah, well that’s an excellent question, and I wish I could give you a definite answer. I believe that glyphosate does bioaccumulate, and I suspect that if it gets in the brain, it’s much harder to get it out. But they’re doing treatments with animals with fulvic acid, humic acid and bentonite clay. These are contained in soil. Quite interestingly, they can feed these animals things that are derived from soil, which are basically organic compounds in the soil that can help to get the glyphosate out of your system. They’ve shown that in animal studies just coming up very recently, and so you could use those as a way to expedite the process of getting rid of glyphosate. It will eventually, I think, work out of your body. Of course you may be continually exposed through the water and the air, even though you’re eating organic food; so I feel that all countries ought to be banning it. We ought to get that thing out of the market. Because it is so dangerous in so many ways, it needs to be removed.
JC: But you’re convinced that it’s going to have to happen by consumer pressure, that it’s not going to happen in any other way, so we just have to, if we can afford it, move on to organic eating?
SS: Yes. And I think, for example, as you can get organic eggs, which is a pretty good product, that’s a way to get healthy food. Eggs are really healthy in general, and not expensive, more expensive if they’re organic, but worth every extra penny because they’re much healthier than the non-organic ones, just in terms of the yellow yoke, the large yoke, the sturdy white, the thick shell, these are all indicators that that egg is a much healthier egg, and therefore has a lot more nutritional value than the non-organic egg. So, for example, just eat a lot of organic eggs, which is not too expensive and is very good for you.
JC: Excellent. Well, thank you ever so much, Dr. Seneff, for joining us on the programme and sharing with us all this information. It certainly has been a bit of a challenge to speak to you, I must say. I try to imagine what the world might be like if we did try to live in a different way! And I must just say before we end that obviously nothing that has been said in this interview should be taken as health advice or dietary advice. We’ve been sharing information and opinion and, well, having said that let me say once again: thank you very much indeed for joining us on The Mind Renewed, and for giving up some of your very valuable time to be with us today. It’s very good of you.
SS: Thank you, my pleasure.
Disclaimer: The views expressed by Dr. Seneff in this interview are her responsibility alone; they do not necessarily reflect those of The Mind Renewed.