Consumer Reports flogs bogus Roundup paper

edamameConsumer Reports a year or so ago reversed itself and began taking anti-science stances against biotechnology, because catering to the prejudices of their readers is more profitable than standing for actual science. Porterfield describes this volte face away from science here.

Its latest salvo into things it barely understands is hyping a poorly argued paper in their article “Scientists Raise Concerns Over Weed Killer Glyphosate in New Study.” They argue is that the “risks of glyphosate (Roundup) have been understated and that further study is needed.” They refer to a paper by 14 scientists, many with organic industry ties just published in Environmental Health, titled “Concerns over use of glyphosate-based herbicides and risks associated with exposures: a consensus statement.”

This is not a research paper or a study: it is a consensus statement by 14 scientists, many who could be classified as “activists,” including Consumer’s Union’s own Michael Hansen, who has been spreading misinformation about biotechnology for years, all contrary to accepted science. To see Hansen’s incoherent communication style in action, take a look at the 2013 debate at Hofstra University reported here. You can watch the actual debate here, and will quickly conclude that Hansen is in over his head in his debate with University of Florida Horticultural Science Chairman Kevin Folta.

The paper starts out citing the IARC, an autonomous extension of the WHO surprising claim that glyphosate is “probably carcinogenic,” despite a vast array of peer-reviewed  papers to the contrary. These are summarized by Giddings. In fact, they went so far off the rails as to quote Seralini papers, and Gurney went so far as to suggest that the IARC “requires adult supervision.” No, there is no evidence that glyphosate is carcinogenic at any dosage.

These authors suggest that glyphosate is used much more frequently than when it was introduced and while the plant toxicity mechanism (disruption of the Shikimate pathway) does not exist in humans, they now find papers from their own and Seralini’s laboratory suggesting that “there might be a wide range of potential adverse effects triggered by disruption in the endocrine system.”

Now let’s pause and remember the Seralini rule: if you have to cite Seralini’s discredited and withdrawn lumpy rat paper, you’ve lost the argument. That withdrawn paper was reprinted here without further refereeing.  In fact this paper cites 7 different papers by Seralini, making its credibility distinctly suspect.

They cite a paper in the Journal of the American Water Resources Association suggesting that glyphosate and its degradation product AMPA are found in up to 17% of water samples, but neglect to mention that the article points out that “Concentrations of glyphosate were below the levels of concern for humans or wildlife.” They also cite Bohn’s paper claiming that glyphosate accumulates in Roundup Ready soybeans. However, Jordan has severely criticized this paper for not meeting minimum scientific standards.

While they correctly note that excessive use of herbicides can lead to weed resistance (this is called evolution) it is in no way unique to glyphosate, and herbicide and crop rotation are generally recommended.

They express concern that levels of glyphosate and AMPA residue are not monitored in the U.S., but fail to mention that this is because toxicology studies have shown glyphosate to be about as toxic as aspirin. Thus their complaint that “environmentally relevant” doses are not considered is ridiculous, if there is no effect at much larger doses.

They note that the incidence of non-Hodgkins lymphoma has doubled since 1975, but all they say is that “a causal link [with glyphosate] may exist.” It has not been established.

To get to their point, they have done no new research, and their literature review simply arrives at a consensus that “a further independent examination of glyphosate toxicity should be undertaken.” Recognizing that NIH funds are unlikely to be available for such a wild goose chase, they propose that manufacturers of glyphosate provide these funds to be transferred to “government research institutes.” This seems unlikely to take place.

The authors

While the authors make claims of no conflicts of interest we find that:

To conclude, the authors found little that is new and referenced a number of questionable and discredited papers in the process. And their final conclusion amounted to “further study is needed.” This is hardly a blockbuster conclusion.

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