Roundup – To Drink Or Not To Drink

checkmating the fact-checkers

TRUTH OR DARE: William Henry Gates III, uSpiked dares you to publicly disown your past and present association with Monsanto and its Roundup. We shall grant you the platform to do so. Alternatively, you can pick a friendly media to counter our finding, in the meantime, please let us be.

In Brief

  • It is an investigation that has been in the works for months, but when Africa Check conveniently published what they claimed to be a fact-checked report hailing glyphosate, we had to push forward the first instalment
  • uSpiked Investigative Team, in this forced-first instalment of how public service entities are slowly, but surely being captured by corporations
  • We provide evidence Africa Check either found to be too taxing to seek or plainly too inconveniencing
  • Granted an opportunity recently by Deutsche Welle to defend glyphosate, Monsanto’s country boss, Kobus Steenekamp, could only talk of some internal studies that deemed the chemical safe, yet Africa Check found some reasons that have eluded the multi-billion dollar corporation to imply that the petition before the SAHRC is a waste of time

In its proclamation, the Wits University-based fact-checkers, Africa Check has made a name for itself as the continent’s authority  in sorting fact from fiction. They are the go-to fellas for verification of claims of whatever nature(s). At uSpiked, we have at least once previously relied on one of their reports.

In one of their latest reports though, we have been left with several unanswered questions. The main one being whether the researcher, Vinayak Bhardwaj, and by extension Africa Check, went out shopping for ‘facts’ that would be suitable to one of their funders. The attempted slur at the Inkatha Freedom Party’s initiative to the SA Human Rights Commission whereby the IFP are requesting an un-biased investigation into potential harms caused through exposure of the masses to the toxin glyphosate is, in the least, wanting and lacking of fact-checking credentials, or at worst a screw-up of unimaginable magnitude. More on that later…

Does the Human Rights Commission have a mandate to investigate possible environmental contamination? The answer is a resounding yes. Over a decade ago, environmental issues were confirmed to be human rights issues and anybody that would challenge that must be living on a very different planet.

Glaringly missing from the Africa Check screw-up report,Is South Africa “feeding its people toxins”, as the IFP alleges?’,  is an upfront declaration of potential conflict of interest. Glyphosate a compound that is freely available across the counter in hardware stores, supermarkets and via agricultural sector suppliers throughout the continent and the world under the brand name, Roundup, is manufactured by the biotech giant, Monsanto, a multinational with close and direct ties to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Following onto the footsteps of the fathers of everything***gate Scandals, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, of the Watergate break-in, we decided to follow the money.

Sitting comfortably at the highest table is the world’s richest man, William Henry “Bill” Gates III, reported to have been worth US$83.9b by February 2017. With these financial resources, Mr. Gates can buy and promote whatever narrative suits him on any given day. Whenever his name is mentioned, his and his wife’s (Melinda French Gates), Foundation gets drawn alongside... “The best thing to have happened to the world’s poor”. Nothing wrong with that so far.

Until February 5, 2002, the Foundation we know today was simply called Gates Bill & Melinda Foundation. On that day, it changed its name to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Trust through which it conducts multiple businesses across the globe while at the same time running its ‘strings-tied philanthropic agendas’.

In 2006, the Foundation Trust drew into its folds a genetic engineer, Dr Robert B Horsch to work with the men and women at Gatesland in application of his work “towards improving crop yields” in regions including sub-Saharan Africa. Horsch was the Monsanto Vice-President of Product and Technology Cooperation. One would have to search deeper to find his association to the failed attempts to create a genetically modified potato.

Then in 2010, with the arrogance that only the super-rich and powerful can display, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Trust went on an acquisition spree that purchased 500,000 shares of Monsanto, later valued at US$23m. When the UK Guardian reported on the shareholdership, in 2010, the subsequent embarrassment became untenable and processes were initiated to delink the shareholding from the ‘good work’ of the Foundation.

The Foundation Trust's last filing with the US Security Exchange Commission in relations to Monsanto 500,000 shares was in November 2011 where at the value had risen from the US$23m to US30m. [It must be agreed, everything Bill touches, turn into gold — editor]

It is still not traceable through various Security Exchange Commission filings as to how Monsanto shares previously owned directly by the Foundation Trust landed with Autonation Inc. another entity the wealthy couple holds massive interests in or rather wholly own. It is called business.

To get to understand this, one must appreciate the brilliance of the well respected, successful value investor, the 59 year-old Michael Larson who exclusively runs Gates secretive private holding company, Cascade Investment LLC. This begs the question, where was the brilliant Larson when the Gates openly went into stock-buying spree with companies that would later be in direct conflict with the aims and objectives of the Foundation Trust? Was he the one who was called upon to clean the mess? [that is a story for another day — editor].

Whether the Foundation Trust’s involvements with various companies were legal, ethical and moral, is besides the point, Africa Check owed it to the public to disclose these webs. They also owed it to the public to disclose the fact that one of its funders had interest in the product they were seeking facts on.

According to information publicly provided, in 2016, Africa Check received about £68,000 (just over R1m at the current exchange rates – but we should not forget that at the beginning of 2016, the Sterling Pound was exchanging at just over R20 – from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Trust.

A million Rand from Roundup co-owners.

With that undeclared possible conflict of interests, should the findings by researcher Bhardwaj not be treated with as much disdain as they deserve? We shall assume that he didn’t know of the sources of his organisation’s funding and further assume that he embarked into this research with clean hands and mind…

‘Is South Africa “feeding its people toxins”, as the IFP alleges?’ Africa Check gave the question its ‘UNPROVEN’ seal.

Let’s for a second go somewhat semantic. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, ‘unproven’ is defined as, “Not demonstrated by evidence or argument as true or existing.” In essence, Africa Check and its researcher are stating that the IFP in its letter to the SAHRC was shooting from the hip.

In arriving at that conclusion to justify the ‘unproven seal’ the researcher relied on some 2012/13 supposed testing by the directorate of forensic pathology services he never had sight of, but was somewhat convinced to exist and to have been undertaken under acceptable scientific norms. This is the same forensic laboratory services that take years to return results on drunk driving.

When fact-checking went belly up.

Then there was information sourced from the Department of Agriculture, Forestry & Fisheries (DAFF). When challenged to justify the need for allowing the continuous use of this increasingly questionable substance, glyphosate, which is a broad-spectrum herbicide to which certain GMO crops are specifically engineered to be immune, the DAFF pointed to a study funded by GMO industry bodies. The same study that showed glyphosate to be ‘safe’ for use in crops grown for human consumption… [doesn’t that remind us of permethrin usage in disinsection of aircraft? — editor]

Africa Check’s researcher did not find it prudent to include the very recent EU health and agricultural secretariat’s decision to allow only a limited relicensing of glyphosate use in EU countries, which indicates a sea-change in the EU with regard to the supposed ‘safety’ of this key component in GMO food production.

To date SA’s DAFF has closely followed the EU with respect to GMOs and their associated production practices, specifically so with regards the use of glyphosate.

The DAFF has not, in our view, adequately responded to developments among other regulators beyond our borders, nor to the latest independent scientific research and findings regarding both GMOs as a whole and glyphosate in specific.

Instead, our domestic agricultural authorities have simply pushed aside growing concerns over the use of glyphosate, almost without any restrictions at all, in a variety of scenarios ranging from industrial-scale agricultural production, through to smaller scale food production and domestic use in home gardens.

The determination last year by the WHO sub-agency, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), that glyphosate was a ‘probable human carcinogen’ has not been adequately refuted, and would therefore appear irrefutable, by the GM Biotech industry and its lobbyists, despite their obvious discontent with this finding.

Besides, it was due to this latest IARC classification that the US Environmental Agency returned to the drawing board to re-evaluate the safety previously claimed and held dearly by Monsanto and other biotech companies. The current Case at US District Court of Northern District of California is unearthing possible collusions between the EPA staff and Monsanto. (See accompanying report). Monsanto is fighting to keep secret their not so-for-public-ears conversation with EPA officials.

The recent EU decision to relicense glyphosate for just 18 months, as opposed to the standard 15 years, while the IARC finding is further being investigated, indicates that glyphosate will likely soon be banned in the EU entirely (or what would be left of it upon Brexit). Indeed, several member states have committed to bans or restrictions. Malta has stopped sales of Roundup, while Italy and France, both large agricultural countries have called for bans.

Meanwhile, Roundup’s prolific use in South Africa continues unabated as millions of liters of the toxic herbicide are sprayed on our foods and soils annually.

Should glyphosate be proven to be a human carcinogen, as seems almost certain, the official allowance of this substance in a variety of contexts may subsequently be deemed to have been a ‘crime against humanity’ and/or a ‘gross violation of human rights’, since it is knowingly being used in a manner bound to cause extensive harm, injury, possible birth defects and even deaths.

Given proof pending of glyphosate’s role as a human carcinogen, the above-described harm would extend to the entire population of South African consumers who eat foods grown using glyphosate or even foods grown near such glyphosate-resistant crops, or downstream or downwind from them.

At greatest risk are farmworkers exposed to glyphosate in the maize, soya, viticulture, sugarcane and timber plantations. The National Institute of Occupational Health is in the process of designing a study to look at incidence of non-Hodgkins lymphoma in relation to exposure to glyphosate in South Africa’s maize production. This and pretty much all other research related to the real-world use of glyphosate is completely lacking as we currently rely on industry-funded research that appears intentionally limited in scope and the word of the producers of glyphosate that their product is not harmful.

Nonetheless, important new evidence is starting to emerge. New results demonstrate that long-term consumption of an ultra-low dose of Roundup at a glyphosate daily intake level of only 4 nanograms per kilogram of bodyweight per day, which is 250,000 times below permitted levels in SA (75,000 times below EU and 437,500 below US), results in non-alcoholic fatty acid liver disease (NAFLD). This study causatively links glyphosate to serious disease at environmentally relevant levels over the course of a lifetime.

The permitted levels set for glyphosate consumption were largely based on proprietary data, and outdated science from over a decade ago. The different permitted levels set by SA, the EU and the US is testament to the fact that these levels were not based on scientifically reliable data.

The study we have cited above uses the latest in global profiling techniques to detect global changes in protein and metabolite expression, a technique that independent biosafety experts have long called for to be included in pesticide as well as GMO risk assessment.

Agricultural application risks

When glyphosate is used in aerial crop spraying, it is self-evident that there can be no meaningful control of where exactly this herbicide lands. Wind-drift and mechanical redistribution of this dangerous herbicide cannot be avoided so people, crops and animals with absolutely no connection to food production are directly at risk. This situation is exemplified by the Argentinian experience, where aerial application of pesticides (with glyphosate the most applied), devastated rural populations, prompting a large network of health workers calling for an end to aerial spraying, following rising illnesses especially cancers and birth defects.

These concerns are further validated by a 2017 epidemiological study linking high glyphosate detection in rural towns associated with a 2-3 times higher rate of cancer incidence, prevalence and mortality than the national average. Children are suffering persistent illness and documented DNA damage, a common cause of cancer development.

Multiple studies reveal evidence of DNA damage in other organisms.

Surely this body of emergent evidence scientifically detailing the harmful effects of glyphosate on humans must constitute a direct violation of our Constitutionally-entrenched rights to health, clean environment and good governance. Yet, Africa Check researcher opted not to dig deeper.

There can hardly be a sensible argument against this point as wind-blown aerial spraying has long been established to be the main cause for secondary contamination of non-target crops, neighbouring eco-systems, human beings and livestock.

There is simply no way that aerial and or mechanical spraying can be contained and controlled such that it only affects targeted crops or plantations.

It would therefore appear crop spraying with glyphosate, as described, is in itself a human rights violation. In effect, every single South African is being exposed to this dangerous herbicide, either directly or indirectly, through residues left on GMO foods (often mixed without labelling or warning with non-GMO foods) or via cross-contamination, which is almost unavoidable through food processing.

Ingestion risks

Glyphosate is posing an ever-growing risk to ordinary citizens, regardless of who they may be, and specifically to the great majority of our people who routinely eat white maize meal, 99% of which now consists either entirely of, or contains a high percentage of GMOs. With traces of glyphosate being found in human urine, blood samples, breast milk and umbilical cords in communities where GMO foods are produced overseas, should be enough reason to be concerned other than shoot down at anything and everything that would reposition our friends and funders.

No country on earth has a higher percentage of GMOs in their staple diets than South Africa, and we are the only country in the world that has approved the genetic modification of our staple foods, most of which are grown using glyphosate. New research indicates that the process of genetic modification itself can disrupt the physiology of the plant and thus lead to altered composition of toxicants. At the very least, it disproves the fallacy that GM crops are substantially equivalent to their non-GM counterpart, highlighting the current gaps in biosafety knowledge and risk assessment.

Results Monsanto wont want the public to see.

It follows, then, that every South African citizen, virtually to the last man, woman or child, is at risk from the prolific use of Glyphosate, originally patented as an industrial drain and boiler cleaner,  labelled by leading global health authorities to be at least a ‘probable human carcinogen’ and more than likely, a ‘known human carcinogen’.

It also has other seriously harmful effects, including being an endocrine disruptor, with far-reaching health implications for individuals so affected by it.

It is unimaginable, then, that anyone in a government position could condone the use of this (or any other) highly questionable herbicide, either in the agro-industry as a whole, or for domestic use, without having thoroughly reviewed all the available relevant independent research.

What possible justification, we ask, could be offered for what appears to be gross negligence in ignoring the risks associated with the use of glyphosate in the contexts we have described in GMO production? Or what justification could Africa Check researchers have for unconsciously providing its seal of approval.

It further must be noted that it takes a great deal for an organisation like the WHO to call a widely used and powerfully backed substance such as glyphosate a ‘probable human carcinogen’.

That the EU is now firmly on course to ban this substance altogether shows just how far behind the DAFF remains in its review of available research. Not only is glyphosate and indeed, GMO production itself highly questionable, but also profoundly problematic for human, animals and ecological health in the long run.

The DAFF clearly lacks the capacity and expertise to not only perform the vital testing of glyphosate levels in our food supply, but also to read the independent non-industry funded, related research and studies.

Individuals carrying labels of ‘independent researchers’ or ‘fact checkers’ should not be allowed to modify public narratives to suit their ghostly masters.

uSpiked throws a challenge to Africa Check and the entire Wits University Community to present data and records proving that glyphosate is safe for human consumption. Our position is that as long as there is a slim chance that it is ‘possibly carcinogenic’, it should not be allowed near any ingestible products; food, water, soil or even the air we breath. It should not be the responsibility of the consumers to prove that glyphosate is safe, after all, the people of South Africa have not signed up to be experimented on in the largest clinical trial the world has ever seen.

Lets hope that the South African Human Rights Commission does its job and ensure that the independent research available on GMOs and Glyphosate is thoroughly and independently reviewed and that the findings of this review are effectively implemented by the responsible governmental departments in a quest to protect the constitutional Rights of all South Africans.

Once again, we revisit the works of Anne Lamott: “You own everything that happened to you. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.” The same goes to Gates and the men and women at Africa Check, nothing personal.