Over the summer, the United States Environmental Protection Agency released a report that concluded that glyphosate — a herbicide found in weed-killing sprays like Roundup — was not an endocrine disruptor (that is, something that will mess with your hormones). But an investigation from The Intercept has uncovered that Monsanto, the agribusiness giant that produces Roundup, actually funded those EPA studies that found glyphosate to be harmless.
According to the investigation by Sharon Lerner, the EPA considered 32 studies for its own report. Of those 32, however, just five were independently-funded, and of those five, three determined that glyphosate posed serious dangers to the human body. Glyphosate “may induce significant adverse effects on the reproductive system of male Wistar rats at puberty and during adulthood, states one report that tested the chemical on rats. The majority, though, did not find a problem with glysophate, so the EPA did not determine it to be an issue.
Even if the EPA didn’t find glyphosate to be an endocrine disruptor, it very well may be one. And the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) doesn’t exactly advise us to put them in our body willingly, defining them as:
“An endocrine disruptor is a synthetic chemical that when absorbed into the body either mimics or blocks hormones and disrupts the body’s normal functions. This disruption can happen through altering normal hormone levels, halting or stimulating the production of hormones, or changing the way hormones travel through the body, thus affecting the functions that these hormones control.”
The NRDC further clarifies why endocrine disruptors are so harmful:
“Many plant and animal species are showing signs of ill health due to exposure to endocrine disrupting chemicals. For example, fish in the Great Lakes, which are contaminated with polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and other man-made chemicals, have numerous reproductive problems as well as abnormal swelling of the thyroid glands.…
“The alligators in [Lake Apopoka, Florida] have diminished reproductive organs that prevent successful reproduction. These problems were connected to a large pesticide spill several years earlier, and the alligators were found to have endocrine disrupting chemicals in their bodies and eggs.”
The EPA’s process may be dubious but not necessarily nefarious. Legally speaking, the agency is allowed to use the industry studies as evidence for glyphosate’s lack of negative side effects. They’re supposedly legitimate studies. It’s just that the labs that conduct the studies are very aware of where the funding is coming from, and they’d ideally like to keep the cash flowing.
Doug Gurian Sherman, a senior scientist at the Center for Food Safety and former staff scientist at the EPA Office of Pesticide Programs, told The Intercept: “It’s not that people are going to necessarily do something clearly fraudulent. It’s more that it puts a pressure to shave things in a direction to whoever’s paying the bills.” Basically, it’s pretty heavy truth-massaging, if such a thing can exist.
The Intercept’s deep dive into Monsanto and the EPA has produced some pretty unsettling findings. Unfortunately, it’s not particularly surprising. Documentaries like Food Inc. have brought to light the ways that Big Food is able to get the desired results, even when such clearance is not warranted. Even Volkswagen thought it could get away with cheating the system to avoid testing yet stay on the roads. The added dimension with Monsanto, however, is that it’s seemingly controlling the game while still operating above-board.