Genetically Modified Soy Diets Lead to Ovary and Uterus Changes in Rats

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If you’re still eating genetically modified (GM) soybeans and you plan on having kids, a Brazilian study may make you think again about what you put in your mouth. Female rats fed GM soy for 15 months showed significant changes in their uterus and reproductive cycle, compared to rats fed organic soy or those raised without soy. Published in The Anatomical Record in 2009, this finding adds to the mounting body of evidence suggesting that GM foods contribute to reproductive disorders (see summary at end).

Unlike women whose menstrual cycle starts automatically at puberty, female rats need to be "inspired." Their (estrous) cycle conveniently kicks in only after being introduced to male rats. Since no males were present in this study, the females fed organic soy or no soy were appropriately untriggered (diestrus).  For some odd reason, however, those fed GM soy appeared to have their ovulation cycle in full gear.

Although the researchers did not perform a check on the estrous cycle directly, their microscopic analysis of ovaries and uterus tissue showed that the hormone-induced changes (i.e. early ovulation and formation of corpus luteum) were well underway. In addition, the lining of the uterus (endometriim) had more cells than normal and the glands were dilated. In simpler terms, according to senior UK pathologist Stanley Ewen, something in the GM soy diet was "wrecking the ovary and endometrium" of the rats.

Hormonal imbalance and disease risk

Dr. Ewen speculated on the significant hormonal changes in the rats and their implications for women who eat GM soy. He said that the proliferative growth (hyperplasia) of the (endometrial) cells lining the uterus implies changes in important reproductive hormones. There might include excessive production of estrogen, follicle stimulating hormone, and luteinizing hormone, or even damage to the pituitary gland itself.

The presence of the corpus luteum, which is normally formed during the estrous cycle, means that the rats likely have higher amounts of progesterone. This hormone could increase the number of eggs released from the ovary, as well as increase their tendency to implant and be viable. If eating GM soy increased progesterone in women, this might improve their fertility.

On the other hand, if women also experienced similar changes in the uterus lining and altered hormonal levels, Dr. Ewen said it might increase the risk of retrograde menstruation, in which menstrual discharge travels backwards into the body rather than through the uterus. This can cause a disease known as endometriosis, which may lead to infertility. The disorder can also produce pelvic and leg pain, gastrointestinal problems, chronic fatigue, and a wide variety of other symptoms. The cause is unknown.

Dr. Ewen also pointed out that the changes in the rats, if extrapolated to humans, might lead to abnormally heavy or longer menstrual periods (menorrhagia).

He was quick to point out that more studies are needed before any firm conclusions can be drawn, particularly because such a method of study, called histology, "is a static observation—only a snapshot." In addition, follow-up studies may be able to better rule out other variables. In this study, an amino acid (cysteine) was added only to the organic soy diet but not the GMO (although even a cysteine-deficient diet would not explain the reproductive issues). Also, the soybeans used in both diets were purchased commercially. It is much better to use similar genetic varieties grown side by side in the same climatic conditions. Unfortunately, Monsanto doesn’t usually make the similar varieties (isolines) available for research.

The variable that Dr. Ewen wants looked at the most is the weedkiller used on GM soybeans, as he mentioned over and over that it is a probable cause of the disruption.

Is Roundup herbicide causing us reproductive problems?

Genetically modified soybeans are called Roundup Ready. They are inserted with a bacterial gene, which allows the plants to survive a normally deadly dose of Roundup herbicide. Although the spray doesn’t kill the plant, its active ingredient called glyphosate does accumulate in the beans themselves, which are consumed by rats, livestock, and humans. There is so much glyphosate in GM soybeans, when they were introduced Europe had to increase their allowable residue levels by 200 fold.

Although there is only a handful of studies on the safety of GM soybeans, there is considerable evidence that glyphosate—especially in conjunction with the other ingredients in Roundup—wreaks havoc with the endocrine and reproductive systems. "I think the concentration of glyphosate in the soybeans is the likely cause of the problem," says Ewen.

Glyphosate throws off the delicate hormonal balance that governs the whole reproductive cycle. "It’s an endocrine buster," says Ewen, "that interferes with aromatase, which produces estrogen." Aromatase is required by luteal cells to produce hormones for the normal menstrual cycle, but it’s those luteal cells that have shown considerable alterations in the rats fed GM soybeans.

Glyphosate is also toxic to the placenta, the organ which connects the mother to the fetus, providing nutrients and oxygen, and emptying waste products. In a 2009 French study at the University of Caen, scientists discovered that glyphosate can kill the cells in the outer layer of the human placenta (the trophoblast membrane), which in turn can kill the placenta. The placenta cells are, in Ewen’s words, "exquisitely sensitive to glyphosate." Only 1/500th the amount needed to kill weeds was able to kill the cells. The amount is so small, according to the study authors the "residual levels to be expected, especially in food and feed derived from R[oundup] formulation-treated crops" could be enough to "cause cell damage and even [cell] death." Furthermore, the effect of the toxin may bioaccumulate, growing worse with repeated consumption from Roundup laden foods.

Ewen says, "If the endocrine functions of the placenta are destroyed by glyphosate in the test tube, by extrapolation, ovarian and endometrial function would be expected to suffer." The implications for pregnant woman consuming glyphosate, he says, could be abortion.

Indeed, in a Canadian epidemiological study, which looked at nearly 4000 pregnancies in 1,898 couples, women exposed to glyphosate during the three months before getting pregnant had a significantly higher risk of abortions, especially for those above 34 years of age.

Dr. Ewen regrets that he didn’t follow up a referral by a local gynecologist about 20 years ago, who told him that women were having abortions when the fields next door were sprayed. He doesn’t know what was sprayed.

Fathers exposed to glyphosate also increase reproductive risks

In the Canadian study above, even fathers who were exposed to glyphosate before their wives got pregnant showed an increase in early delivery and abortions. In addition, a study of male rabbits showed that glyphosate can cause a reduction in sexual activity and sperm concentration, and an increase in dead or abnormal sperm.

Birth defects increased in humans and animals

Numerous indigenous people and peasant communities in Argentina have blamed aerial spraying of Roundup on a significant rise of birth defects. Dr. Andreas Carasco of the Embryology Laboratory, Faculty of Medicine in Buenos Aires, decided to investigate. He exposed amphibian embryos to a tiny concentration of glyphosate (diluted 5000 fold). According to an excellent summary of glyphosate-related effects by the Pesticide Action Network,

"Effects included reduced head size, genetic alterations in the central nervous system, increased death of cells that help form the skull, deformed cartilage, eye defects, and undeveloped kidneys. Carrasco also stated that the glyphosate was not breaking down in the cells, but was accumulating. The findings lend weight to claims that abnormally high levels of cancer, birth defects, neonatal mortality, lupus, kidney disease, and skin and respiratory problems in populations near Argentina’s soybean fields may be linked to the aerial spraying of Roundup."

Although human embryos are not directly treated with glyphosate in the same way that Carrasco treated his amphibian embryos, it is known that glyphosate does cross the placenta and enters the fetal circulation.

In his article, Dr. Carrasco describes some disturbing findings in Argentina, where more than 50 million gallons of glyphosate-based herbicide is used on more than 45 million acres of GM soy.

In Argentina, an increase in the incidence of congenital malformations began to be reported in the last few years. In Co´rdoba, several cases of malformations together with repeated spontaneous abortions were detected in the village of Ituzaingo´, which is surrounded by GMO-based agriculture. These findings were concentrated in families living a few meters from where the herbicides are regularly sprayed.

Glyphosate may also cause reproductive disorders in the offspring of those exposed. When pregnant rats, for example, were exposed to glyphosate, their male offspring suffered reduced sperm production, increased abnormal sperm, and decrease in testosterone, in puberty and/or adulthood.

Other evidence of reproductive problems from GMOs

The changes in the rat uterus and ovulation cycle are by no means a smoking gun. But they are now part of a pattern of multiple reproductive disorders found in GMO feeding studies.
Professor Vyvyan Howard, a toxico-pathologist of the University of Ulster, says, "Several new hazards can now be identified." The growing body or research showing problems, he says, "provides ample evidence that the producers of GMO crops are not performing risk assessments for some of the hazards that independent scientists are identifying and testing." Dr. Howard, who specializes in the effects of toxins on the fetus and infants,  asks, "What will be the effect on the fetus in the womb of women eating these foods? This needs to be tested."

The few tests that have been done on animals are more than sobering. In April 2010, researchers at Russia’s Institute of Ecology and Evolution of the Russian Academy of Sciences and the National Association for Gene Security found that after feeding hamsters GM soy for two years over three generations, by the third generation most lost the ability to have babies. They also suffered slower growth, a high mortality rate among the pups, and a high incidence of a rare phenomenon of hair growing inside their mouths.

When I reported the results of the hamster study, I included the following review of other GMO-related reports of reproductive disorders:

In 2005, Irina Ermakova, also with the Russian National Academy of Sciences, reported that more than half the babies from mother rats fed GM soy died within three weeks. This was also five times higher than the 10% death rate of the non-GMO soy group. The babies in the GM group were also smaller (see photo) and could not reproduce.
In a telling coincidence, after Ermakova’s feeding trials, her laboratory started feeding all the rats in the facility a commercial rat chow using GM soy. Within two months, the infant mortality facility-wide reached 55%.

When Ermakova fed male rats GM soy, their testicles changed from the normal pink to dark blue! Italian scientists similarly found changes in mice testes (PDF), including damaged young sperm cells. Furthermore, the DNA of embryos from parent mice fed GM soy functioned differently.

An Austrian government study published in November 2008 showed that the more GM corn was fed to mice, the fewer the babies they had (PDF), and the smaller the babies were.
Central Iowa Farmer Jerry Rosman also had trouble with pigs and cows becoming sterile. Some of his pigs even had false pregnancies or gave birth to bags of water. After months of investigations and testing, he finally traced the problem to GM corn feed. Every time a newspaper, magazine, or TV show reported Jerry’s problems, he would receive calls from more farmers complaining of livestock sterility on their farm, linked to GM corn.

Researchers at Baylor College of Medicine accidentally discovered that rats raised on corncob bedding "neither breed nor exhibit reproductive behavior." Tests on the corn material revealed two compounds that stopped the sexual cycle in females "at concentrations approximately two-hundredfold lower than classical phytoestrogens." One compound also curtailed male sexual behavior and both substances contributed to the growth of breast and prostate cancer cell cultures. Researchers found that the amount of the substances varied with GM corn varieties. The crushed corncob used at Baylor was likely shipped from central Iowa, near the farm of Jerry Rosman and others complaining of sterile livestock.
In Haryana, India, a team of investigating veterinarians report that buffalo consuming GM cottonseed suffer from infertility, as well as frequent abortions, premature deliveries, and prolapsed uteruses. Many adult and young buffalo have also died mysteriously.

Biotech advocates usually deny or try to discredit the evidence, and often attack scientists who discover it. But they rarely call for follow-up studies. With little or no money to follow up on these findings, we won’t know for sure if GMOs are the cause, or if it is glyphosate, or something else. But numerous medical doctors aren’t waiting for more research. They are telling their patients, especially those pregnant or planning to have kids, just say no to GMOs.

So if you were still eating GMOs before you read this, perhaps it’s time to take the doctors’ advice.

International bestselling author and filmmaker Jeffrey M. Smith is the executive director of the Institute for Responsible Technology. His first book, Seeds of Deception: Exposing Industry and Government Lies About the Safety of the Genetically Engineered Foods You’re Eating, is the world’s bestselling and #1 rated book on GMOs. His second, Genetic Roulette: The Documented Health Risks of Genetically Engineered Foods, documents 65 health risks of the GM foods Americans eat every day. Both are distributed by Chelsea Green Publishing. To help you choose healthier, non-GMO brands, use the Non-GMO Shopping Guide.

Monsanto: The World’s Poster Child for Corporate Manipulation and Deceit – Part 3

2010-02-05-cornscary.jpgWhen Forbes magazine declared Monsanto as the Company of the Year for 2009, millions of surprised people were forced to reevaluate their opinions about a major corporation. Now they no longer trust Forbes.

Monsanto is one of the most despised corporations on earth. This is the third in a series of articles that expose their not-so-hidden dark side and how, if unrestrained, Monsanto could unleash a cataclysm. Indeed, it has already started…

Part 3 of 10

Covering up health dangers

The policy Taylor oversaw in 1992 needed to create the impression that unintended effects from GM crops were not an issue. Otherwise their GRAS status would be undermined. But internal memos made public from a lawsuit showed that the overwhelming consensus among the agency scientists was that GM crops can have unpredictable, hard-to-detect side effects. Various departments and experts spelled these out in detail, listing allergies, toxins, nutritional effects, and new diseases as potential problems. They had urged superiors to require long-term safety studies. In spite of the warnings, according to public interest attorney Steven Druker who studied the FDA’s internal files, “References to the unintended negative effects of bioengineering were progressively deleted from drafts of the policy statement (over the protests of agency scientists).”

FDA microbiologist Louis Pribyl wrote about the policy, “What has happened to the scientific elements of this document? Without a sound scientific base to rest on, this becomes a broad, general, ‘What do I have to do to avoid trouble’-type document. . . . It will look like and probably be just a political document. . . . It reads very pro-industry, especially in the area of unintended effects.”

The FDA scientists’ concerns were not only ignored, their very existence was denied. Consider the private memo summarizing opinions at the FDA, which stated, “The processes of genetic engineering and traditional breeding are different and according to the technical experts in the agency, they lead to different risks.” Contrast that with the official policy statement issued by Taylor, Monsanto’s former attorney: “The agency is not aware of any information showing that foods derived by these new methods differ from other foods in any meaningful or uniform way.” On the basis of this false statement, the FDA does not require GM food safety testing.

Fake Safety Assessments

Monsanto participates in a voluntary consultation process with the FDA that is derided by critics as a meaningless exercise. Monsanto submits whatever information it chooses, and the FDA does not conduct or commission any studies of its own. Former EPA scientist Doug Gurian-Sherman, who analyzed FDA review records obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, says the FDA consultation process “misses obvious errors in company-submitted data summaries, provides insufficient testing guidance, and does not require sufficiently detailed data to enable the FDA to assure that GE crops are safe to eat.”

But that is not the point of the exercise. The FDA doesn’t actually approve the crops or declare them safe. That is Monsanto’s job! At the end of the consultation, the FDA issues a letter stating:

“Based on the safety and nutritional assessment you have conducted, it is our understanding that Monsanto has concluded that corn products derived from this new variety are not materially different in composition, safety, and other relevant parameters from corn currently on the market, and that the genetically modified corn does not raise issues that would require premarket review or approval by FDA. . . . As you are aware, it is Monsanto’s responsibility to ensure that foods marketed by the firm are safe, wholesome and in compliance with all applicable legal and regulatory requirements.

The National Academy of Sciences and even the pro-GM Royal Society of London describe the US system as inadequate and flawed. The editor of the prestigious journal Lancet said, “It is astounding that the US Food and Drug Administration has not changed their stance on genetically modified food adopted in 1992. . . . Governments should never have allowed these products into the food chain without insisting on rigorous testing for effects on health.”

One obvious reason for the inflexibility of the FDA is that they are officially charged with both regulating biotech products and promoting them–a clear conflict. That is also why the FDA does not require mandatory labeling of GM foods. They ignore the desires of 90% of American citizens in order to support the economic interests of Monsanto and the four other GM food companies.

Monsanto: The World’s Poster Child for Corporate Manipulation and Deceit – Part 2

2010-02-05-cornscary.jpgWhen Forbes magazine declared Monsanto as the Company of the Year for 2009, millions of surprised people were forced to reevaluate their opinions about a major corporation. Now they no longer trust Forbes.

Monsanto is one of the most despised corporations on earth. This is the second in a series of articles that expose their not-so-hidden dark side and how, if unrestrained, Monsanto could unleash a cataclysm. Indeed, it has already started…

Part 2 of 10

Infiltrating the Minds and Offices of the Government

To get their genetically modified products approved, Monsanto has coerced, infiltrated, and paid off government officials around the globe. In Indonesia, Monsanto gave bribes and questionable payments to at least 140 officials, attempting to get their genetically modified (GM) cotton accepted. In 1998, six Canadian government scientists testified before the Senate that they were being pressured by superiors to approve rbGH, that documents were stolen from a locked file cabinet in a government office, and that Monsanto offered them a bribe of $1-2 million to pass the drug without further tests. In India, one official tampered with the report on Bt cotton to increase the yield figures to favor Monsanto. And Monsanto seems to have planted their own people in key government positions in India, Brazil, Europe, and worldwide.

Monsanto’s GM seeds were also illegally smuggled into countries like Brazil and Paraguay, before GMOs were approved. Roberto Franco, Paraguay’s Deputy Agriculture Ministry, tactfully admits, “It is possible that [Monsanto], let’s say, promoted its varieties and its seeds” before they were approved. “We had to authorize GMO seeds because they had already entered our country in an, let’s say, unorthodox way.”

In the US, Monsanto’s people regularly infiltrate upper echelons of government, and the company offers prominent positions to officials when they leave public service. This revolving door has included key people in the White House, regulatory agencies, even the Supreme Court. Monsanto also had George Bush Senior on their side, as evidenced by footage of Vice President Bush at Monsanto’s facility offering help to get their products through government bureaucracy. He says, “Call me. We’re in the ‘de-reg’ business. Maybe we can help.”

Monsanto’s influence continued into the Clinton administration. Dan Glickman, then Secretary of Agriculture, says, “there was a general feeling in agro-business and inside our government in the US that if you weren’t marching lock-step forward in favor of rapid approvals of biotech products, rapid approvals of GMO crops, then somehow, you were anti-science and anti-progress.” Glickman summarized the mindset in the government as follows:

“What I saw generically on the pro-biotech side was the attitude that the technology was good, and that it was almost immoral to say that it wasn’t good, because it was going to solve the problems of the human race and feed the hungry and clothe the naked. . . . And there was a lot of money that had been invested in this, and if you’re against it, you’re Luddites, you’re stupid. That, frankly, was the side our government was on. Without thinking, we had basically taken this issue as a trade issue and they, whoever ‘they’ were, wanted to keep our product out of their market. And they were foolish, or stupid, and didn’t have an effective regulatory system. There was rhetoric like that even here in this department. You felt like you were almost an alien, disloyal, by trying to present an open-minded view on some of the issues being raised. So I pretty much spouted the rhetoric that everybody else around here spouted; it was written into my speeches.”

He admits, “when I opened my mouth in the Clinton Administration [about the lax regulations on GMOs], I got slapped around a little bit.”

Hijacking the FDA to Promote GMOs

In the US, new food additives must undergo extensive testing, including long-term animal feeding studies. There is an exception, however, for substances that are deemed “generally recognized as safe” (GRAS). GRAS status allows a product to be commercialized without any additional testing. According to US law, to be considered GRAS the substance must be the subject of a substantial amount of peer-reviewed published studies (or equivalent) and there must be overwhelming consensus among the scientific community that the product is safe. GM foods had neither. Nonetheless, in a precedent-setting move that some experts contend was illegal, in 1992 the FDA declared that GM crops are GRAS as long as their producers say they are. Thus, the FDA does not require any safety evaluations or labels whatsoever. A company can even introduce a GM food to the market without telling the agency.

Such a lenient approach to GM crops was largely the result of Monsanto’s legendary influence over the US government. According to the New York Times, “What Monsanto wished for from Washington, Monsanto and, by extension, the biotechnology industry got. . . . When the company abruptly decided that it needed to throw off the regulations and speed its foods to market, the White House quickly ushered through an unusually generous policy of self-policing.” According to Dr. Henry Miller, who had a leading role in biotechnology issues at the FDA from 1979 to 1994, “In this area, the U.S. government agencies have done exactly what big agribusiness has asked them to do and told them to do.”

The person who oversaw the development of the FDA’s GMO policy was their Deputy Commissioner for Policy, Michael Taylor, whose position had been created especially for him in 1991. Prior to that, Taylor was an outside attorney for both Monsanto and the Food Biotechnology Council. After working at the FDA, he became Monsanto’s vice president. He’s now back at the FDA, as the US food safety czar.

Monsanto: The World’s Poster Child for Corporate Manipulation and Deceit – Part 1

2010-02-05-cornscary.jpgMonsanto’s public relations story about genetically modified organisms (GMOs) is largely based on five concepts:

1. GMOs are needed to feed the world.

2. GMOs have been thoroughly tested and proven safe.

3. GMOs increase yield.

4. GMOs reduce the use of agricultural chemicals.

5. GMOs can be contained, and therefore coexist with non-GM crops.

All five are pure myths—blatant falsehoods about the nature and benefit of this infant technology. The experience of former Monsanto employee Kirk Azevedo helps expose the first two lies, and provides some insight into the nature of the people working at the company.

In 1996, Monsanto recruited young Kirk Azevedo to sell their genetically engineered cotton. Azevedo accepted their offer not because of the pay increase, but due to the writings of Monsanto CEO Robert Shapiro. Shapiro had painted a picture of feeding the world and cleaning up the environment with his company’s new technology. When he visited Monsanto’s St. Louis headquarters for new employee training, Azevedo shared his enthusiasm for Shapiro’s vision during a meeting. When the session ended, a company vice president pulled him aside and set him straight. “Wait a second,” he told Azevedo. “What Robert Shapiro says is one thing. But what we do is something else. We are here to make money. He is the front man who tells a story. We don’t even understand what he is saying.” Azevedo realized he was working for “just another profit-oriented company,” and all the glowing words about helping the planet were just a front.

A few months later he got another shock. A company scientist told him that Roundup Ready cotton plants contained new, unintended proteins that had resulted from the gene insertion process. No safety studies had been conducted on the proteins, none were planned, and the cotton plants, which were part of field trials near his home, were being fed to cattle. Azevedo “was afraid at that time that some of these proteins may be toxic.”

He asked the PhD in charge of the test plot to destroy the cotton rather than feed it to cattle, arguing that until the protein had been evaluated, the cows’ milk or meat could be harmful. The scientist refused. Azevedo approached everyone on his team at Monsanto to raise concerns about the unknown protein, but no one was interested. “I was somewhat ostracized,” he said. “Once I started questioning things, people wanted to keep their distance from me. . . . Anything that interfered with advancing the commercialization of this technology was going to be pushed aside.” Azevedo decided to leave Monsanto. He said, “I’m not going to be part of this disaster.”

Monsanto’s Toxic Past

Azevedo got a small taste of Monsanto’s character. A verdict in a lawsuit a few years later made it more explicit. On February 22, 2002, Monsanto was found guilty for poisoning the town of Anniston, Alabama with their PCB factory and covering it up for decades. They were convicted of negligence, wantonness, suppression of the truth, nuisance, trespass, and outrage. According to Alabama law, to be guilty of outrage typically requires conduct “so outrageous in character and extreme in degree as to go beyond all possible bounds of decency so as to be regarded as atrocious and utterly intolerable in civilized society.”

The $700 million fine imposed on Monsanto was on behalf of the Anniston residents, whose blood levels of Monsanto’s toxic PCBs were hundreds or thousands of times the average. This disease-producing chemical, used as coolants and lubricants for over 50 years, are now virtually omnipresent in the blood and tissues of humans and wildlife around the globe. Ken Cook of the Environmental Working Group says that based on Monsanto documents made public during a trial, the company “knew the truth from the very beginning. They lied about it. They hid the truth from their neighbors.” One Monsanto memo explains their justification: “We can’t afford to lose one dollar of business.” Welcome to the world of Monsanto.

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