In 2010, my life changed when Dr Henk Tennekes and I traded books. His was: The systemic insecticides: a disaster in the making and ours was: The Year of the Bumblebee: Observations in a small Nature Reserve. Dr Henk Tennekes, an independent toxicologist based in the Netherlands, was the first researcher to recognise the extreme toxicity of low levels of systemic neonicotinoid insecticides that have become widespread in the environment. They cause a virtually irreversible blockage of postsynaptic nicotinergic acetylcholine receptors (nAChRs) in the central nervous system of insects (to which the human foetus is also exposed). He said the damage is cumulative, and with more exposure more receptors are blocked. He predicted that there is no safe level of exposure. He asked me to market his book in the UK. I wrote to regulators and Ministers in the UK, in Europe, the US and Australia. They all told me the same story…there was no evidence that neonicotinoid insecticides were harmful to bees. So by March 2011 Henk and I knew that regulators and the relevant governments were in the hands of the agrochemical corporations.
The Year of the Bumblebee was the photo-journal of our small Nature Reserve (1 acre) in South Wales UK that we had established in 2006 in response to the global declines in birds and invertebrates (animals without backbones) such as bumblebees, butterflies, dragonflies and moths.
In 2013 the biodiversity in our nature reserve started to decline. I was sent a scientific paper written by US Scientists Anthony Samsel and Stephanie Seneff ‘Glyphosate, pathways to modern diseases’, so I knew immediately that Roundup® (Monsanto’s formulated glyphosate) had been destroying our nature reserve. They told me that 4 patents had been taken out on the chemical. Monsanto had originally bought it as a chelator of minerals for cleaning boilers (it extracted minerals such as cobalt, zinc, manganese, calcium, molybdenum and sulphate). Monsanto then marketed it as an herbicide. Subsequently they patented it as an antibiotic and as an anti-protozoal against malaria.
Monsanto said that glyphosate inhibits an enzyme that is essential for the biosynthesis of certain amino acids. They claimed that this enzyme is only found in plants, fungi and bacteria, but not in animals and humans. However Monsanto and the regulators are wrong. Glyphosate poisons humans in the same way as it poisons plants. Humans and animals have exactly the same pathway as in plants; mammals can only absorb nutrients via the bacteria in their gut; the gut microbiome. This is the name given to the collective genome of organisms inhabiting our body.
On 14/04/2017 Organic Consumers Association and Beyond Pesticides, two US organizations, announced that they are suing Monsanto “for false and misleading labeling of the company’s flagship product, Roundup herbicide. Here’s why. The label on Monsanto’s Roundup, sold in stores like Home Depot and Walmart and online by Amazon, clearly states that the herbicide targets an enzyme “found in plants but not in people or pets.”
For an unknown number of years Monsanto’s contractors Complete Weed Control has been spraying Roundup® on Japanese knotweed growing in old industrial mine workings in the Swansea area. Some years ago it became a Roundup®-resistant super-weed like the Genetically Modified (GM) crops engineered to be Roundup® resistant in the US. In the US, the first confirmed Glyphosate-Resistant super-weed, rigid ryegrass was reported in 1998 within two years of GM Roundup® Ready crops being grown. Super-weeds in the US in GM cropping systems are now a massive problem. Between 1996 and 2011, as a result of GM technology, 22 Glyphosate-Resistant super-weeds had developed.
In 2016, Charles Benbrook wrote in a report: “Since 1974 in the U.S., over 1.6 billion kilograms of glyphosate active ingredient have been applied, or 19 % of estimated global use of glyphosate (8.6 billion kilograms). Globally, glyphosate use has risen almost 15-fold since so-called “Roundup® Ready,” genetically engineered glyphosate-tolerant crops were introduced in 1996. Two-thirds of the total volume of glyphosate applied in the U.S. from 1974 to 2014 has been sprayed in just the last 10 years.”
We compared our experiences and discovered we had almost identical problems. Anthony pointed out to me the UK government website describing pesticide residues in food. Britain wants to grow GM crops against the wishes of the people but GM hasn’t as yet been approved. However, some UK farmers had been spraying glyphosate pre-harvest since 1980 at the suggestion of a Monsanto scientist. Samsel and Seneff’s colleague Dr Nancy Swanson had created graphs linking data from the Center for Disease Control and found strong correlations between diseases that had been increasing over the last 30 years and the percentage of GM Crops and the amounts of Roundup® sprayed on crops. These included obesity, autism, Type 2 Diabetes, Dementia, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s Disease, liver and kidney failure, hypercholesterolemia, stroke and various cancers such as kidney, liver, pancreas, thyroid, Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, Myeloma and leukemia.
The UK Environment Agency refused to measure glyphosate (or neonicotinoid insecticides) in groundwater. We sent samples to a Veterinary Laboratory in Leipzig and very small amounts of glyphosate were present in both river and tap water. In our reserve from 2006 to 2010 we documented 143 different species of moth, three species of bush-cricket, 20 species of butterfly, six species of bumblebee and numerous dragonflies, damsel flies, grass-hoppers, many beetles including ladybirds and the rare oil-beetle, many forms of hover flies and solitary bees, vigorous pond life including whirligig beetles, water boatmen and giant diving beetles. Bat numbers have sharply declined over the years. By 2016 many species had disappeared. In November 2016 we found out the firm Complete Weed Control had been contracted to spray 3,000 km pavements in Swansea in spring and autumn, resulting in a total of 518 kg of Roundup® being used.
UK rejected many clauses in the Sustainable Use of Pesticides: DIRECTIVE 2009/128/EC OF THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT
Aerial spraying of pesticides was allowed in the UK. Special areas were not protected; for example spraying on children’s playgrounds, around hospital premises, in public places, sports fields and conservation areas were permitted. There was no protection of watercourses from pesticide run-off into rivers and Roundup® was freely used to eradicate Giant Hogweed growing by water. By the beginning of 2017, salmon and trout numbers in major rivers in Wales were described as ‘critical’ because of losses of aquatic invertebrates. No warning was given to rural communities when farmers were crop spraying. Georgina Downs founder of UK Pesticides Campaign in 2001 stated that: “The most common chronic long-term effects, illnesses and diseases reported to my campaign from residents living in the locality of crop sprayed fields include neurological conditions such as Parkinson's disease, Motor Neurone Disease, and neurological damage, as well as various cancers, especially those of the breast and brain, leukaemia, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, amongst many other chronic conditions.”
Hilal Elver the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food severely criticised the Global Agricultural Corporations. The Report by the Special Rapporteurs on Food and Toxics and presented to the UN Human Rights Council on 08/03/2017 is severely critical of the global corporations that manufacture pesticides, accusing them of the “systematic denial of harms”, “aggressive, unethical marketing tactics” and heavy lobbying of governments that has “obstructed reforms and paralysed global pesticide restrictions.”
“It is a myth that pesticides are necessary to feed the world,” said Hilal Elver. “Using more pesticides is nothing to do with getting rid of hunger. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), we are able to feed 9 billion people today. Production is definitely increasing, but the problem is poverty, inequality and distribution.” Pesticides have “catastrophic impacts on the environment, human health and society as a whole… It is time to create a global process to transition toward safer and healthier food and agricultural production.” The incidence of pesticide-related illnesses described in the Report such as cancers, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases, hormone disruption, developmental disorders and sterility is steadily increasing in the UK.
The German Rapporteur Member State Federal Institute of Risk Assessment (BfR) had claimed that glyphosate had minimal effects on the environment.
I challenged EFSA and the European Commission when they wanted to re-license glyphosate but neither organization replied.
UK State of Nature 2016 compiled by 50 organizations
Mark Eaton the first author said: “Of 218 countries assessed, the UK is ranked 189: it is 29th lowest out of 218: Countries below are the Republic of Ireland, USA, Hong Kong and Macao. This means that nature is faring worse in the UK than in most other countries. Biodiversity Intactness Index correlates with pesticide usage over the centuries; 75% land in the UK is managed for food production. How we manage the land is key to the state of nature.
The International Monsanto Tribunal is an international civil society initiative to hold Monsanto accountable for human rights violations, for crimes against humanity, and for ecocide. Eminent judges heard testimonies from victims, and deliver an advisory opinion following procedures of the International Court of Justice. A parallel People's Assembly provides the opportunity for social movements to rally and plan for the future they want. Prof Gilles-Eric Séralini an organiser of the Tribunal suggested I send a written testimony to the five judges about the poisoning of our reserve with Roundup®. We also sent our two photo-journals from 2010.
In March 2015 the World Health Organisation’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) had declared glyphosate as a 2A carcinogen (probably carcinogenic in humans). Monsanto, European Regulators and the UK say it is not carcinogenic and have given glyphosate a ‘clean bill of health’. However, the US EPA Special Advisory Panel (SAP) failed to reach an agreement about whether or not glyphosate is a carcinogen.
By March 2017 in the US Monsanto Roundup® Cancer lawsuits filed reached 700 cases. The judge forced Monsanto to reveal crucial emails. It included ones in which a US Environmental Protection Agency official Jess Rowland who was in charge of evaluating the cancer risk of Monsanto’s Roundup® allegedly bragged to a company executive that he deserved a medal if he could kill another agency’s investigation into the herbicide’s key chemical. The judge also cited an email from a Monsanto executive proposing to ghost-write parts of the 2013 report, saying, "we would be keeping the cost down by us doing the writing" while researchers "would just edit & sign their names so to speak."
It’s been four years since Marion Copley, a toxicologist who had worked for 30 years for the EPA, wrote this letter to her then-colleague, Jess Rowland, accusing him of conniving with Monsanto to bury the agency’s own hard scientific evidence that it is “essentially certain” that glyphosate, the key ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup weed killer, causes cancer. The date of the letter comes after Copley left the EPA in 2012 and shortly before she died from breast cancer at the age of 66 in January 2014. She accuses Rowland of having “intimidated staff” to change reports to favor industry, and writes that research on glyphosate, the key ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup®, shows the pesticide should be categorized as a “probable human carcinogen.” She had studied the tumor process closely. “Glyphosate was originally designed as a chelating agent and I strongly believe that is the identical process involved in tumor formation."
The International Monsanto Tribunal: Judges Verdict on 18 April 2017: The legal opinion will be addressed to Monsanto and to the United Nations
“From this legal opinion, other jurisdictions can be involved and more judges will step in. We, as the judges [at the Monsanto Tribunal] have seen, heard, noted and deliberated. Chances are that the international law will take into consideration new issues such as the ones related to ecocide.
Through the case of Monsanto, the Tribunal considers an example of a multinational corporation whose behavior ignores the damages their decisions cause to health, environment and scientific independence. The aim of the Tribunal is to give a legal opinion on the environmental and health damage caused by the multinational Monsanto. This process will use existing international law but also contribute to the international debate to include the crime of ecocide into international criminal law. It will also give people all over the world a well-documented legal file to be used in lawsuits against Monsanto and similar chemical companies.”
Many lovely creatures on our nature reserve have been poisoned by Roundup®
Rosemary Mason worked for the UK National Health Service for 35 years as Consultant Anaesthetist to West Glamorgan Health Authority. She served as Assistant Editor of Anaesthesia 1990-2000, and was awarded Pask Certificate for Services to Anaesthesia in the UK in 2001. She lives in South Wales with her husband Palle Uhd Jepsen, former Senior Adviser in Nature Conservation to the Danish Forest and Nature Agency. In between the rise and fall of their nature reserve she has spent seven years challenging global pesticides regulators and governments.