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Glyphosate disrupts of human hormones

Professor Gilles-Eric Seralini is working on the evaluation of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and the toxicity of glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup; and the comparison between the Roundup formulation product and glyphosate alone. He addressed the PAN Europe Pesticide Use Reduction in Europe (PURE) conference in Copenhagen, and afterwards spoke to John Harvey.

JH: You said that glyphosate is used on 75% of the world’s GM crops: is that right?
G-ES: Actually, 99% of GM crops across the world are designed either to tolerate or to produce pesticides. Seventy five per cent tolerate pesticides, mostly Roundup. For example, 90% of transgenic soya is designed to tolerate Roundup. The other 25% of GM crops are producing their own insecticide derived from the biopesticide bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) or insecticides produced in bacteria. 

JH: Do you think that chemicals such as glyphosate, or Roundup, are being properly tested according to the standard rodent tests we use for other chemicals?
G-ES: If 99% of GM crops are designed to produce or tolerate pesticides, then they only help industrial agriculture rather than organic or extensive farming. They are tools to help intensive practices.
I was wondering if anyone had given these crops to rats for the standard three month period. I found there was no real, good toxicity standard test on rats for these GM crops. If this has not been done, how can you guarantee to 450 million Europeans tomorrow that the crops will be good for health? 

My team has noticed that Roundup disrupts hormones (chemical messengers) which are modulating the oestrogen synthesis. Oestrogens are known as female hormones, but today we know that they are important for bone growth and testicular function at very low doses. So a modulation of oestrogen synthesis could account for sperm decline, increase in cancers and sexual malformations. So we have to be careful with the hormonal effects of GM crops and the associated herbicides.

JH: You used an enzyme called aromatase. This must be essential for the healthy functioning of the human body. Why did you choose aromatase?
G-ES: Firstly, aromatase belongs to a family of enzymes which detoxify the body. Secondly, aromatase is the only enzyme used for the synthesis of sexual hormones called oestrogens. 

So it is very important to know if an aromatase disruption can affect sexual malformation, if it can participate in a hormonal dependent cancer such as breast cancer or any sperm decline. That is why we chose this crucial and irreversible enzyme from all the hormone producing enzymes.

JH: What effect did you find that glyphosate or Roundup had on the function of aromatase?
G-ES: First, we found that very low doses of glyphosate were toxic on either human embryonic cells, foetal cells or placental cells. We also found that the synthesis of hormones was perturbed with Roundup and this was amplified by the formulation product. It is a general belief that only the glyphosate active ingredient in Roundup is toxic. But this general belief has to be revisited since the formulation product amplifies the effect.

According to toxicological rules, one dilutes the effects of the active ingredient by the formulation products and this must now be reconsidered because it is probably wrong in several cases. For example, there are detergents linked to active ingredients, giving them a toxic effect: it is this process which has to be reconsidered to evaluate properly all the active ingredients which are known to be hormone disruptors.

JH: You said you had found that very low doses of glyphosate had caused these effects on aromatase. Are they the kind of doses that would be used in practical agriculture in the European Union?
GE-S: They are about ten to 100 times less than the doses used by agricultural workers. One has to be cautious because these are in vitro results but we do not want to wait for death when the precautionary principle suggests a need for measures to avoid any harmful effects on foetuses and children.

JH: The PURE conference is about reducing the use of pesticides and applying the precautionary principle; what should the European Union do about the use of glyphosate and Roundup?
GE-S: I think that, first of all, GMOs and GM plants should not be believed to reduce pesticide use, because they do not do that. Secondly, we have thought about this question in CRII-GEN (the French committee of independent research and information on genetic engineering). We think we need a new body of experts in Europe. 

Too often, the only experts designated by governments know the chemical industry and work with it. We must have independent and contradictory experts in all the instances where pesticides, and other industrial products which could cause harmful effects to humans, are evaluated.

Gilles-Eric Seralini, President du Conseil Scientifique de CRII-GEN (Comité de Recherche et d’Informations Indépendantes sur le Génie Génétique), Universite de Caen, Laboratoire de Biochimie et de Biologie Moleculaire – IBFA Esplanade de la Paix, Caen F-14032 Cedex, France, tel: 33 (0) 231 56 56 84, fax: 33 (0) 231 56 53 63,,
[This article first appeared in Pesticides News No. 63, March 2003, page 4]


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