Toxic Legacy: How the Weedkiller Glyphosate Is Destroying Our Health and the Environment
By Stephanie Seneff, PhD
Chelsea Green Publishing
Monsanto is the company just about everyone loves to hate. And their marquee product—Roundup by retail name, but chemically glyphosate—is possibly the number-one herbicide in the world. Glyphosate now is found in samples of air, water and soil across almost the entire planet. Though Monsanto, bought up by German-based Bayer in 2018, is no more (at least in name), the use and legacy of glyphosate continues.
Is glyphosate as bad as some claim? What role does it play in both plant and human health and disease? Does science support or contradict the fear that the product instills in some people? In Toxic Legacy, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) scientist Stephanie Seneff turns her attention—and her more than credentialed resume—to these and other questions. Often, people try to brush aside those who criticize modern agriculture by saying that the critics lack the technical and other expertise necessary to sit at the table. Seneff, with her stellar credentials, is not so easily dismissed.
Her takeaway, after almost a decade of intense research, is as follows: “There is a growing body of scientific evidence that shows that glyphosate is a major factor in several debilitating neurological, metabolic, autoimmune, reproductive, and oncological diseases. This organic chemical compound. . . is more toxic to all of life than we have been led to believe. Glyphosate’s mechanism of toxicity is unique and diabolical. It is a slow killer, slowly robbing you of your good health over time, until you finally succumb to incapacitating or life threatening disease.”
But how does glyphosate achieve all its wondrous evils? What accounts for its deleterious impact on disparate ecological systems—from the soil microbiome to cereal grains to fungi and other pathogenic microorganisms—and for its contributions to autism and cancer in humans? Toxic Legacy focuses attention on two key aspects of glyphosate’s chemical and biological actions. The first involves its role as a chelator. Research has long shown that Roundup reduces the ability of plants to take up necessary minerals and other nutrients. This means that plants grown in glyphosate-contaminated soils are less healthy and less nutrient-dense. However, the impacts also extend beyond plants. Glyphosate also alters the soil food web in very troubling ways. Seneff explains, “Glyphosate use was one of the biggest factors in the proliferation of pathogenic fungi. . . . [G]lyphosate in soil and water is likely contributing to increases in fungal infections.” As glyphosate empowers pathogenic fungi to thrive, evidence shows they are not only damaging the soil but turning their super-powered attention to us.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t end there. Glyphosate also has a protein problem, best grasped by understanding how this chemical works to stop “weeds.” Says Seneff, “Glyphosate’s effect on plants is to disrupt the shikimate pathway, a metabolic pathway that plants use to produce the aromatic amino acids tryptophan, tyrosine, and phenylalanine, which are precursors to proteins, vitamins, and other kinds of bioactive substances.” She continues, “When glyphosate disrupts the shikimate pathway, it kills the plants.” She also notes that “many of the microbes in our bodies do possess the shikimate pathway.” Most of the book’s middle section focuses on this issue, describing how Roundup wreaks havoc on all sorts of aspects of the human body—from the microbiome to the dozens of molecular and chemical processes that glyphosate drives astray.
Not only does glyphosate interfere with the production of crucial amino acids, but it also can replace one of the most important amino acids in our body: glycine. Glycine is quite similar to glyphosate, and it seems that biological systems where glyphosate is in high supply will readily use it as a replacement for glycine—with absolutely disastrous results. It is like swapping out diesel for gas accidentally at your next fill-up.
I could go on, highlighting study after study that shows how glyphosate causes problems or clear harm at almost every joint and juncture of the ecological system, from water fleas—a foundation of the entire aquatic food chain—to the human gut. But then you wouldn’t need to read the book, which you should. Well footnoted and organized, easy to read even when more technical, Toxic Legacy is a great resource if you want a good primer on the issue of our poisoned-on-purpose food supply.
Given the immense evidence that glyphosate is a major contributor to modern chronic diseases and all sorts of other problems, why is the medical community almost completely silent about its pervasive dangers? Here is Seneff’s answer: “There is little incentive to identify and correct the root causes of chronic disease or empower people to keep from getting sick in the first place when there’s so much profit to be made. Quite the opposite, in fact. The pharmaceutical industry thrives when America is unhealthy. Vibrant good health harms its bottom line.” Notwithstanding this grim conclusion, Toxic Legacy gets two thumbs up.
This article appeared in Wise Traditions in Food, Farming and the Healing Arts, the quarterly journal of the Weston A. Price Foundation, Summer 2021🖨️ Print post