Organic Produce, GMOs and Herbicides

Organic Produce, GMOs, and Herbicides | The Paleo Diet

For Paleo dieters who want fresh food that’s free of contaminants, making the right choice is hard. There has been a huge trend toward purchasing organic produce, which is believed to contain no pesticides, unlike conventional produce.1 When people hear the word organic, they picture a product created through methods that support soil and water conservation and decrease pollution.2

In actuality, organic produce does not necessarily mean chemical-free.3 Furthermore, the use of natural pesticides by organic farmers is controversial, as they can be toxic.4 Recently, there has been a rise in farmers’ use of a weed-killer known as glyphosphate or Roundup.5 About 90% of the corn and soybeans grown in the US are genetically modified to be immune to these chemicals.6  This may come as a surprise to those who believe farm produce equates to high-quality produce. A recent article in the New England Journal of Medicine recently shed some light on this controversy.7

OVERVIEW

According to researchers, the use of glyphosate/Roundup on farms has gone from 0.4 million kilograms to 113 million kilograms over the past 40 years.8 The main reason behind this rise stems from an increase in genetically modified crops (GMOs), including corn and soybeans.9 These crops have been altered at the genetic level to be resistant to damage caused by the use of Roundup. Additionally, the school of thought believes that herbicides such as Roundup are benign to humans and animals and can only affect plants, meaning they are able to prevent weed growth while still allowing for fresh crops that are safe for human consumption.

CONTROVERSY

Recently, several studies have described the likelihood of Roundup/glyphosate resulting in non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. As a result of these studies, The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), has indicated that glyphosate is a “probable human carcinogen,”10 meaning that consuming a crop sprayed with glyphosate/Roundup may increase an individual’s risk of developing cancer. In addition to glyphosate, another herbicide that is commonly used on farms, 2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4-D), has also been suggested to cause cancer.11

But what does all this mean for your health? According to some oncology (cancer) researchers, there may be some safety concerns with consuming these chemicals.

In 2014, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) approved the use of a combination of these indicated herbicides in a new product known as Enlist Duo, made by Dow AgroSciences.12 Some researchers have posed concerns regarding the effect of these herbicides on the health of farm workers, as well as those who live near these farms. Over time, weeds have become resistant to the herbicides, making larger quantities and more frequent sprayings needed to eliminate them.13 As a result, trace amounts of these herbicides have contaminated nearby water supplies.14 Some studies have also noted trace amounts in human urine.15 Given these cancer concerns, the authors of the New England Journal of Medicine article would like the EPA to delay execution of its decision to allow the use of Enlist Duo.

ARE THESE HERBICIDES HARMFUL TO HUMANS?

In response to safety allegations, Dow AgroSciences has said that research data show that these herbicides do not cause any harm to the human population, so the risk is nonexistent. They are supported by experts at the American Cancer Society’s Statistics and Evaluation Center, who state that the human gastrointestinal system does not allow for the uptake of glyphosate, unlike some other harmful pesticides, causing most of this chemical to be excreted in the feces. Further, the American Cancer Society (ACS) states that one is unable to eliminate other toxic chemical exposures that are not a result of glyphosate and 2,4-D,16 making it hard to determine if the risk is due to the simultaneous use of other chemicals, just by virtue of working on the farm.

Nevertheless, the ACS is not comfortable with the likelihood of any known carcinogen lingering in the environment, and state that they would prefer the use of chemicals that have no possibility of being carcinogens in any way. Authors of the New England Journal of Medicine see a need for long-term surveillance research, as well as looking at possible implications in at-risk groups such as juvenile, elderly or immune-compromised patients.

CONCLUSION

In summary, whether or not Enlist Duo or other herbicides cause harm to the human population, our idea of organic products may not be entirely true. We may want to think carefully when trying to justify the huge price difference when purchasing conventional versus organic.

Additionally, like the authors of the publication suggest, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) may want to consider labeling genetically modified (GM) foods, as seen in other countries. As consumers, we do have a right to know the reality behind what we are purchasing and eating.

 

REFERENCES

[1] Mayo Clinic. Organic foods: Are they safer? More nutritious? [Online].; 2014 [cited 2015 Aug 30. Available from: //www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/organic-food/art-20043880.

[2] Huffington Post. How Safe Is Organic Food Really? [Online].; 2014 [cited 2015 August 30. Available from: //www.huffingtonpost.ca/steven-burton/organic-food-safety_b_5514933.html.

[3] Huffington Post. How Safe Is Organic Food Really? [Online].; 2014 [cited 2015 August 30. Available from: //www.huffingtonpost.ca/steven-burton/organic-food-safety_b_5514933.html.

[4] Mayo Clinic. Organic foods: Are they safer? More nutritious? [Online].; 2014 [cited 2015 Aug 30. Available from: //www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/organic-food/art-20043880.

[5] Landrigan P, Benbrook C. GMOs, Herbicides, and Public Health. N Engl J Med. 2015 Aug; 373.

[6] United States Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service. Adoption of Genetically Engineered Crops in the U.S. [Online].; 2015 [cited 2015 Aug 31. Available from: //www.ers.usda.gov/data-products/adoption-of-genetically-engineered-crops-in-the-us.aspx.

[7] Landrigan P, Benbrook C. GMOs, Herbicides, and Public Health. N Engl J Med. 2015 Aug; 373.

[8] Landrigan P, Benbrook C. GMOs, Herbicides, and Public Health. N Engl J Med. 2015 Aug; 373.

[9] United States Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service. Adoption of Genetically Engineered Crops in the U.S. [Online].; 2015 [cited 2015 Aug 31. Available from: //www.ers.usda.gov/data-products/adoption-of-genetically-engineered-crops-in-the-us.aspx.

[10] Guyton K, Loomis D, Grosse Y, Ghissassi F, Benbrahim-Tallaa L, Guha N, et al. Carcinogenicity of tetrachlorvinphos, parathion, malathion, diazinon, and glyphosate. Lancet Oncol. 2015; 16: p. 490-91.

[11] Loomis D, Guyton K, Grosse Y, Ghissasi F, Bouvard V, Benbrahim-Talla L, et al. Carcinogenicity of lindane, DDT, and 2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid. Lancet Oncol. 2015 June; 16(8).

[12] Landrigan P, Benbrook C. GMOs, Herbicides, and Public Health. N Engl J Med. 2015 Aug; 373.

[13] Landrigan P, Benbrook C. GMOs, Herbicides, and Public Health. N Engl J Med. 2015 Aug; 373.

[14] US National Library of Medicine. Medline Plus. [Online].; 2015 [cited 2015 Aug 29. Available from: https://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/news/fullstory_154186.html.

[15] US National Library of Medicine. Medline Plus. [Online].; 2015 [cited 2015 Aug 29. Available from: https://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/news/fullstory_154186.html.

[16] US National Library of Medicine. Medline Plus. [Online].; 2015 [cited 2015 Aug 29. Available from: https://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/news/fullstory_154186.html.

About O. H. Okoye, MD, MBA, MSEpi

O. H. Okoye, MD, MBA, MSEpiDr. Obianuju Helen Okoye is a US Health Care Consultant with a Medical Degree (MD), an MBA in Healthcare Management, and a Masters in Epidemiology/Public Health. Her background includes being a National Institutes of Health (NIH) Clinical and Research Fellow, and State of Michigan HIV/AIDS Epidemiologist.

She has a plethora of clinical research experience and has presented at US and International Medical Conferences. Dr. Okoye has authored some publications, such as the impact of the implementation of the Affordable Care Act on medical tourism in the USA, the Market Analysis on US Health Reform (Impact on Supply and Demand for Health Care Services), and on lessons learned from the Ebola epidemic. Dr. Okoye’s interests include disease prevention, empowering under-served communities globally, bridging access (to) and streamlining the delivery of healthcare services.

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