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One Little Piggy Had Birth Defects: Is Monsanto's Roundup to Blame?

A herbicide marketed by Monsanto is linked to a string of birth defects in pigs.

One little piglet was born with only one large eye. A second piglet was missing an ear. A third piglet had a large hole in its skull. A fourth piglet had a monstrously huge "elephant tongue." A female piglet was born with testes. Still others had malformed limbs, spines, skulls and gastrointestinal tracts.

The pigs in question belonged to a Danish pig farmer. For three years he had fed his pigs ordinary, non-genetically modified soy. When he ran out, he bought the cheaper genetically modified (GM) soy pig feed. His herdsman, unaware of the feed switch, immediately noticed that the pigs lost their appetite and that the piglets developed diarrhea. Even worse was the sudden and shocking increase in birth defects. The farmer, eager to understand the cause, had 38 of the deformed pigs euthanized and tested for glyphosate, the herbicide used on the GM soy. The results were published in the April 2014 issue of the Journal of Environmental and Analytic Toxicology. The samples of lung, liver, kidney, brain, gut wall, heart and muscle all tested positive.

Glyphosate is the world's most frequently used herbicide. First marketed by Monsanto in the 1970s under the trade-name "Roundup," it is used extensively wherever GM crops are grown. Monsanto has touted Roundup's safety, claiming that, since it attacks an enzyme system not present in animals, it is harmless to people and to pets. We are beginning to find out that this is simply not true. As scientists start to investigate the effects of glyphosate residues in humans and animals, a horrifying story is beginning to emerge. It begins with what we have learned about glyphosate's propensity to cause birth defects.

Glyphosate and Birth Defects

Glyphosate is a known teratogen, meaning "monster-maker." Studies conducted on rats and rabbits since the 1980s have shown an astonishing spectrum of birth defects associated with glyphosate, including absent kidneys, missing lobes of the lungs, enlarged hearts, ventricular septal defects (holes in the heart), extra ribs, and deformed and absent bones of the skull, spine, ribs, sternum and limbs.

But if birth defects in rats and rabbits have not been enough to get our attention, we are now seeing high rates of spontaneous abortion and birth defects in human infants born in areas where glyphosate is being sprayed. This is particularly true in Argentina, Paraguay and other parts of Latin America where GM acreage has increased significantly. A group of researchers in Argentina noted alarmingly high rates of miscarriages and birth defects in families living within meters of glyphosate spraying. They decided to conduct a study with animals in the laboratory.

The scientists exposed frog and chicken embryos to glyphosate. The herbicide caused birth defects in the embryos similar to those seen in human infants. They were able to demonstrate that glyphosate attacks the Vitamin A (retinoic acid) signaling pathway, which is crucial for normal fetal development in vertebrates. Since the Vitamin A pathway is found in all vertebrates, it is likely that the piglet birth defects, too, can be explained by a glyphosate induced disturbance of this pathway during embryonic development.

But, there's more.

Glyphosate's Role in Chronic Diseases

The Vitamin A pathway is part of a much larger enzyme system known as Cytochrome P450. This enzyme system is present in most tissues of our bodies. It plays critical roles in estrogen and testosterone synthesis and metabolism, as well as in cholesterol synthesis, and in Vitamin D metabolism. Cytochrome P450 enzymes also function to inactivate potentially toxic compounds. Most drugs are metabolized by this enzyme system. It has now been demonstrated that glyphosate interferes with several of the enzymes in this vital system. 

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