Mamas, don’t let your babies grow up with lymphoma.
Imagine yourself on a Saturday afternoon: you’re at the grocery store, pushing a heavily loaded shopping cart through a maze of long, crowded aisles. You’re anticipating a lengthy receipt.
Leaving behind a treacherous wall of cookies and other delicious treats, you turn the corner, kids trailing behind you, and at once realize you’ve entered another minefield of questionable choices: the cereal aisle. You try to move quickly but escape proves futile.
Suddenly, a yellow, family-sized box appears. Please? the small voice whines. Sigh.
What’s the harm in another week’s worth of Cheerios, anyway?
Poison for Breakfast: Are Those Cheerios Contaminated?
It turns out, there may actually be significant harm in that box on its way to your pantry.
Since the breakfast cereal was introduced to the American diet in 1863, children and adults alike have enjoyed an estimated 160 bowls, or 10 lbs of cereal, per person–annually. With a U.S. population of nearly 300-million people today, that’s 1.35 billion kilograms a year. That’s a lot of cereal.
Until recently, devoted consumers have remained blissfully unaware of what may be hiding in those beloved boxes of sugary goodness.
Independent laboratory tests commissioned by the Environmental Working Group in 2018, and again in June 2019, revealed that heavy doses of glyphosate, the active ingredient in the popular herbicide RoundUp®?, have been found in many food products specifically marketed towards children.
Unsafe levels of glyphosate were detected in all but two of 45 samples of oat-based food products distributed by two major companies, Quaker Oats and General Mills. Among those products, breakfast cereals consistently tested highest for glyphosate contamination. ?
While the companies say there is no reason for concern, tests showed that 26 of the 28 samples revealed amounts of glyphosate higher than EWG’s safe upper limits.
In another analysis, exposure to glyphosate increased the overall risk for Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma by 41%.
“All of the meta-analyses conducted to date, including our own, consistently report the same key finding: exposure to GBHs (glyphosate-based herbicides) are associated with an increased risk of NHL,” the authors wrote in a study published in the journal of Mutation Research.
It is very troubling that cereals children like to eat contain glyphosate, said Alexis Temkin, an EWG toxicologist and author of the report. Parents shouldn’t worry about whether feeding their children healthy oat foods will also expose them to a chemical linked to cancer. The government must take steps to protect our most vulnerable populations.
Representatives from General Mills and Kelloggs have denied that the levels of glyphosate found in their cereals are above safe limits.
Who are the Environmental Working Group?
Founded in 1993 by Ken Cook, EWG is an American nonprofit organization that specializes in research and advocacy in the areas of agricultural subsidies, toxic chemicals, drinking water pollutants, and corporate accountability. Their mission is to empower people to live healthier lives in a healthier environment. Their key issues include consumer products, cosmetics, farming, food, toxics, and children’s health.
The Cancer Round-Up
RoundUp is an extremely popular herbicide, originally produced by agrochemical and agricultural biotechnology giant Monsanto, and its widespread use has led to understandable concern following increased awareness about its link to Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma cancer.
RoundUp: Helpful Herbicide or Dangerous Carcinogen?
RoundUp and other herbicides with the active ingredient glyphosate are probably the most commonly used weed killers among farmers, foresters, gardeners, and biologists trying to control weeds. Since Roundup’s introduction in 1974 more than 9.4 million tons of Roundup have been sprayed into crops, fields, and backyards that pose a direct health risk to people across the country.
According to a report by The Guardian, US farmers spray about 200m pounds of Roundup each year on their crops, including corn, soybeans, wheat and oats. It can also be used on produce such as spinach and almonds.
How does it work?
Glyphosate-based herbicides all work on the same biochemical principle — they inhibit a specific enzyme that plants need in order to grow. The specific enzyme is called EPSP synthase. Without that enzyme, plants are unable to produce other proteins essential to growth, so they yellow and die over the course of several days or weeks. A majority of plants use this same enzyme, so almost all plants succumb to RoundUp.
Glyphosate is used mostly as a weedkiller on genetically modified corn and soybeans. But it is also sprayed on oats just before harvest as a drying agent, or desiccant. It kills the crop, drying it out so it can be harvested sooner, which increases the likelihood that glyphosate ends up in foods children love to eat.
The failure to warn consumers of the risk involved with RoundUp has continued in spite of the International Agency of Research on Cancer (IARC) listing glyphosate as a probable human carcinogen as early as 2015.
Recent court proceedings and newly published research have highlighted the possible link between Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and heavy use of RoundUp among those hard-at-work in the agricultural industry.
Dewayne Lee Johnson filed a lawsuit against Monsanto in 2016 alleging that being exposed to the Roundup herbicide while he worked as a groundskeeper caused him to develop non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL). This was a first of its kind case which led to a unanimous verdict that Roundup’s glyphosate-based weedkiller was responsible for Johnson’s cancer. The trial took over 8 weeks and resulted in a unanimous jury verdict that Monsanto acted with malice and should be punished for its product.
I’ve been going through a lot of pain, Johnson testified weeks earlier. It really takes everything out of you I’m not getting any better.
Jurors awarded Johnson $289 million. Johnson’s case was the first to go to trial because Johnson’s health is declining and doctors said he didn’t have long to live. Dying plaintiffs in California can be granted expedited trials.
Since then, more than 18,000 people have filed lawsuits across the country against Monsanto and are expected to go to trial in the coming years.
What is a Genetically Modified Organism?
Monsanto’s reputation as a controversial agricultural biotechnology corporation holds a dominant position in both herbicides and genetically modified organisms, specifically seeds. Identified more closely than any other company with the effort to introduce genetically modified organisms into the food supply, Monsanto has been the target of ongoing campaigns for more than 20 years.
A GMO, or genetically modified organism, is a plant, animal, microorganism or other organism whose genetic makeup has been modified in a laboratory using genetic engineering or transgenic technology. This creates combinations of plant, animal, bacterial and viral genes that do not occur in nature or through traditional crossbreeding methods.
A Threat to Wildlife
Because RoundUp is used heavily in the agricultural industry, new studies have also been conducted to examine its effect on wildlife. Recent research has suggested that Roundup compromises the immune systems of bees contributing to a critical decline in bee populations. Roundup also caused bee larva to grow more slowly and die more frequently than normal which is thought to be caused by a disruption in the beneficial gut bacteria within bees’ stomachs.
We all know that glyphosate is an antibiotic. It’s very toxic to bacteria. It’s even patented as an antibiotic, says Nathan Donley, a senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity. But very few researchers have actually dived into this issue. The good thing is, that’s starting to change.
Researchers Nancy Moran, Erick Motta and Kasie Raymann suggest their findings are evidence that glyphosate might be contributing to colony collapse disorder. Colony Collapse Disorder is the phenomenon that occurs when the majority of worker bees in a colony disappear and leave behind a queen, plenty of food and a few nurse bees to care for the remaining immature bees and the queen. This phenomenon has been wreaking havoc on both native and farmed honey bees for over a decade.
Cereal Offenders: Monsanto’s Controversial History
While the case against RoundUp is a concerning one, it is certainly not the first, or last, public grievance brought to Monsanto’s rap sheet. From its mistreatment of farmers, to morally questionable government lobbying, manufacturing of Agent Orange, and environmental and workplace safety issues–Monsanto’s disreputable past exudes suspicion and outright mistrust by the public. And rightfully so.
Founded in 1901 in St. Louis, Missouri by pharmaceutical industry veteran John Francis Queeny, Monsanto began as a chemical company whose first products were commodity food additives, such as the artificial sweetener saccharin, caffeine and vanillin.
Over a Century of White Collar Crime
Monsanto expanded rapidly throughout the 20th century, making a name for itself, according to many advocacy groups as, the most evil corporation in the world.
- 1929. Monsanto produces polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), now-banned carcinogenic chemicals. Dioxins, a byproduct of PCB manufacturing, are dangerous environmental pollutants.
- 1940. Monsanto produces polystyrene, the main component in Styrofoam, which creates large amounts of hazardous waste during manufacture.
- 1945. Monsanto begins manufacturing toxic agricultural chemicals like 2,4-D, later used in Agent Orange. It also produces DDT.
- 1956. The U.S. Navy refuses to purchase Monsanto’s hydraulic fluid after safety tests associate it with “definite liver damage.”
- 1976. Monsanto introduces RoundUp, a synthetic chemical herbicide whose overuse soon creates glyphosate-resistant superweeds.
- 1984. Monsanto pays millions to Vietnam War veterans suffering from exposure to Agent Orange.
- 1990s. Monsanto takes 5th among U.S. corporations in the Environmental Protection Agency’s Toxic Release Inventory.
- 1994. Monsanto introduces recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH) to increase milk production, despite numerous adverse health concerns.
- 1996. Monsanto introduces Roundup Ready soybeans, the company’s first genetically modified, pesticide-promoting seed, and the first GE insect-resistant cotton, which produces its own insecticide. Scientists find that aspartame, an artificial sweetener developed by a Monsanto subsidiary, could pose health risks to consumers.
- 1998. Canadian government scientists accuse Monsanto of bribe attempts in obtaining approval of the drug hormone rBGH in Canada.
- 2002. Monsanto is fined $1.5 million for bribing Indonesian officials to skip an environmental assessment of its GE cotton.
- 2003. Monsanto and Solutia agree to pay over $700 million to more than 20,000 Anniston, AL, residents over widespread health problems from PCB contamination.
- 2006. A judge rules that the USDA violated the Endangered Species Act by failing to conduct even minimal investigation into whether GE “pharma crops” could harm endangered species.
This is just a brief summary of Monsanto’s list of unjust acts against public health.
David vs. Monsanto: Legal Battles against Farmers
Perhaps one of Monsanto’s most widely publicized controversies was its mistreatment of both domestic and international farmers.
When Monsanto introduced its first genetically modified seeds in the 1990s, it forced farmers to sign contracts prohibiting them from continuing the traditional practice of saving some of the seeds from a harvest for planting the following season. To make sure farmers were compelled to purchase a new supply of the GMO seeds for every season, the company made sure it had the right to inspect and monitor the fields of its customers. It also brought lawsuits against farmers it claimed violated the company’s policies.
This controversy was highlighted in a 2011 documentary, David vs. Monsanto.
Monsanto was purchased in 2018 by Bayer, one of the largest multinational pharmaceutical companies in the world.
Since then, Bayer’s stock prices have been hit hard by the recent legal rulings regarding the RoundUp cancer lawsuits. Bayer’s total market value has plummeted to less than the price it paid for Monsanto when they purchased the company last year. People took to the streets to demonstrate against acquiring Monsanto to begin with. “Bayer has choked on Monsanto,” said Ingo Speich of German lender Deka bank. “The company risks being taken over and dismantled.” Mark Tuemmler of investors’ federation DSW said 2018 was “a nightmare for shareholders.”
As of August 9th, 2019, there have been rumors that Bayer is reportedly offering a settlement of $8 billion for the 18,000 claims filed against the RoundUp manufacturer. That’s in the ballpark of half of $1 million for each claim filed.