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14 Jun, 2013 17:39

Chemical, used by Monsanto, found in urine of Europeans - study

Chemical, used by Monsanto, found in urine of Europeans - study

Residents of 18 European states have been tested positively to traces of glyphosate, a globally used weed killer, the study says. It remains unclear how the chemical used on Monsanto GMO crops got in people’s bodies.

It turns out that 44 per cent of volunteers had it in their urine, but it is yet unclear how the herbicide got into their systems.

“These results suggest we are being exposed to glyphosate in our everyday lives,” Adrian Bebb, spokesperson of environmental group Friends of the Earth (FoE) said in a statement.

The study, carried out between March and May 2013, showed that proportions of positive samples varies between countries, with Malta (90 per cent) , Germany (70 per cent), UK (70 per cent)  and Poland being “the most positive samples” and Macedonia and Switzerland – “the lowest”.

"Our testing highlights a serious lack of action by public authorities across Europe and indicates that this weed killer is being widely overused,” the group said.

Glyphosate is essentially used on plants including grasses, sedges, broad-leaved weeds and woody plants as well as great variety of genetically modified crops. Glyphosate is the active ingredient in Monsanto's herbicide Roundup, which is sprayed in large amounts on genetically engineered, so-called "Roundup Ready," crops.

“It is crucial for growing genetically modified (GM) crops, many of which are modified to withstand glyphosate,” FoE said.

All volunteers, who provided their urine samples, are people from European cities; they had no contact with glyphosate or used products containing it in the run-up to the tests.

However, after testing volunteers’ samples  the group still cannot say “where it is coming from, how widespread it is in the environment, or what it is doing to our health.”

This study is the first of its kind because despite being widely used in farming and gardening, there is little monitoring of glyphosate in food, water or the wider environment. Commonly tests with glyphosate are conducted with rats, dogs, mice, and rabbits in studies lasting from 21 days to two years.

The FoE members are concerned that the problem many increase as “14 new GM crops designed to be cultivated with glyphosate are currently waiting for approval to be grown in Europe.”

“Approval of these crops would inevitably lead to a further increase of glyphosate spraying in the EU,” the group concluded.

Despite considered relatively non-toxic, there are groups of scientists concerned that glyphosate may disrupt the human hormone system, be an 'endocrine disruptor', cause DNA damage and even cancer. One of the recent reviews, conducted by MIT, also highlighted dangerous health effects of glyphosate, including increased cancer risk, neurotoxicity, and birth defects, as well as eye, skin, and respiratory irritation, but still said that more independent research is needed to prove their findings.

We “have hit upon something very important that needs to be taken seriously and further investigated,” Stephanie Seneff, PhD, lead author and research scientist at MIT, told Reuters in May, shortly after the review was made.

At the same time, the UK scientists who reviewed most recent FoE’s study said its findings were "unreliable", according to Farmers Weekly magazine.

"As it stands, this press release is completely insubstantial, it is not scientific, and cannot be taken seriously by anyone," the magazine quoted Alison Haughton, head of the pollination ecology group at Rothamsted Research, as saying.

US biotech giant Monsanto, which insists it “does not pose any unacceptable risk to human health or the environment".

"It is not surprising to find glyphosate in urine should a person ingest food with low residues of glyphosate. Glyphosate is not metabolized by the human body but excreted into the urine and faeces. This is a well-known aspect of glyphosate that contributes to its comprehensive safety assessment," Monsanto’s spokesperson told the magazine.

“We always take any allegation seriously and would like to know more,” he added.