The foodstuffs of the Western diet, primarily grown by industrial agriculture, are increasingly being produced using a two-part system of engineered plant seeds and toxic chemical application. Novel bacterial genes are incorporated through genetic engineering, and toxic chemical residues are readily taken up by the engineered plants. Research indicates that the new bacterial RNA and DNA present in genetically engineered plants, providing chemical herbicide resistance and other traits, have not yet fully understood biological effects. This paper however, will only examine the effects of the chemical glyphosate, the most popular herbicide on the planet.
Glyphosate (N-phosphonomethylglycine), the active ingredient in the herbicide Roundup®, is the main herbicide in use today in the United States, and increasingly throughout the World, in agriculture and in lawn maintenance, especially now that the patent has expired. 80% of genetically modified crops, particularly corn, soy, canola, cotton, sugar beets and most recently alfalfa, are specifically targeted towards the introduction of genes resistant to glyphosate, the so-called “Roundup Ready® feature” In humans, only small amounts (~2%) of ingested glyphosate are metabolized to aminomethylphosphonic acid (AMPA), and the rest enters the blood stream and is eventually eliminated through the urine. Studies have shown sharp increases in glyphosate contamination in streams in the Midwestern United States following the mid 1990s, pointing to its increasing role as the herbicide of choice in agriculture. A now common practice of crop desiccation through herbicide administration shortly before the harvest assures an increased glyphosate presence in food sources as well. The industry asserts that glyphosate is nearly nontoxic to mammals, and therefore it is not a problem if glyphosate is ingested in food sources. Acutely, it is claimed to be less toxic than aspirin. As a consequence, measurement of its presence in food is practically nonexistent. A vocal minority of experts believes that glyphosate may instead be much more toxic than is claimed, although the effects are only apparent after a considerable time lapse. Thus, while short-term studies in rodents have shown no apparent toxicity, studies involving life-long exposure in rodents have demonstrated liver and kidney dysfunction and a greatly increased risk of cancer, with shortened lifespan. Glyphosate’s claimed mechanism of action in plants is the disruption of the shikimate pathway, which is involved with the synthesis of the essential aromatic amino acids, phenylalanine, tyrosine, and tryptophan. The currently accepted dogma is that glyphosate is not harmful to humans or to any mammals because the shikimate pathway is absent in all animals. However, this pathway is present in gut bacteria, which play an important and heretofore largely overlooked role in human physiology through an integrated biosemiotic relationship with the human host. In addition to aiding digestion, the gut microbiota synthesize vitamins, detoxify xenobiotics, and participitate in immune system homeostasis and gastrointestinal tract permeability. Furthermore, dietary factors modulate the microbial composition of the gut. The incidence of inflammatory bowel diseases such as juvenile onset Crohn’s disease has increased substantially in the last decade in Western Europe and the United States. It is reasonable to suspect that glyphosate’s impact on gut bacteria may be
contributing to these diseases and conditions.