I recently attended a presentation by Professor Gilles Eric Seralini at Food Matters Aotearoa Conference 2015. It occurred to me that this study has not received the attention it deserves: Major Pesticides Are More Toxic to Human Cells Than Their Declared Active Principles. R. Mesnage et al 2014.
How does this study impact us?
It demonstrates that the full formulation that is poured on our food can frequently be more toxic than the ‘declared’ (what the pesticides companies tell us) active ‘principle’ or ‘ingredient’.
Corporations have insisted for years that the only thing we need to worry about is the active ingredient.
Yet this study indicates other ingredients (commonly referred to as adjuvants) in the formulations may NOT be inert, but can be active.
The full formulation is sprayed on our food, but remains unexamined. Over a growing season, as an example, wheat may be sprayed insecticides, fungicides and herbicides. Then at the end of the growing season Roundup may be sprayed on the wheat 7 days prior to harvest, to kill weeds present and dry out the crop (making milling easier).
Seralini's Food Matters Aoteroa Conference presentation discussed the following:
- Adjuvants can destroy the cells membrane and interfere with the endocrine system. They help the active chemical/ingredient penetrate the cell.
- The active chemical is not the most toxic ingredient
- Benachour et al 2007 – Roundup 1,000 times more toxic than glyphosate alone according to time of exposure.
- Different adjuvants are in different formulations.
Seralini questioned: What is the compound responsible for toxicity?
Answer: Ethoxylated adjuvants. As a result of this study: Mesnage 2013. (incl. petroleum residue and tallow amines). A study of 9 Roundup formulations found that every formulation was more toxic than glyphosate (whatever the cell type). This study found that ethoxylated adjuvants of glyphosate based herbicides are active principles of human cell toxicity - are the ingredients that kill or damage human/mammalian cells. Simply put Roundup adjuvants are necrotic.
Yet because the adjuvants are declared ‘inert’ (safe?) they are not used in regulatory testing.
Seralini noted: As a consequence the human acceptable daily intake (ADI) or reference dose (RfD) and calculated regulatory values are underestimated 1000x in neglecting the effects of adjuvants in the formulation.
None of the regulatory authorities (WHO, US EPA, EC) ever test the full formulation for toxicity, nor do any governments.
Having completed the Benachour et al 2007 study – Seralini and his colleagues then questioned – is this true for all pesticides? A study was then undertaken of the 9 major pesticides (Europe). Major Pesticides Are More Toxic to Human Cells Than Their Declared Active Principles. Mesnage et al 2014.
Surprisingly, they found the fungicide formulation was most toxic in comparison to its active chemical.
This should have wide implications for understanding that nowhere in the world are we testing the pesticides we spray on our food, for their true toxicity.
Seralini noted that in all discussions about Confidor, industry (the pesticide producers) do not discuss or refer to the ‘formulation’. Industry very carefully only refer to the active chemical, imidacloprid.
I was aware of Mesnage's 2014 study but had not written too much about it because as a non-scientist, I could not pick it apart accurately in order to clearly present the results. Robin Mesnage, study author, kindly sent me more information about the study.
In short, of the 9 pesticides researched in Mesnage et al 2014 –
Insecticide Pirimor (50% Pirimicarb) – 2 times more toxic than the active chemical (principle).
Carbamate that targets aphids
Insecticide Confidor (200gL/Imidacloprid) – 7 times more toxic than its active chemical
Neonicotinoid implicated in colony collapse disorder of pollinators
Insecticide Polysect (5g/L Acetamiprid – 21 times more toxic than the active chemical
Neonicotinoid implicated in colony collapse disorder of pollinators
Herbicide Matin (500g/L Isoproturon) –the ONLY product with the same toxicity as the active chemical.
Second most widely used active chemical within herbicides in Europe
Herbicide Starane (200g/L Fluoxypyr) – 85 times more toxic than the active chemical
Used on wheat, barley, corn & oats.
Herbicide Roundup GT+ (450g/L Glyphosate) – 125 times more toxic than the active chemical
Sprayed on wheat, barley, corn, oats, sugar, potatoes, legumes (etc) as desiccant and herbicide. Major feed and food contaminant.
Fungicide Eyetak (450g/L Prochloraz) – 3 times more toxic than the active chemical (however it was the most toxic active chemical tested).
Most widely used fungicide applied to cereals in Europe
Fungicide Opus (125g/L Epoxyconazole) – 12 times more toxic than the active chemical
Triazole fungicide applied to field/cereal crops, fruit trees, vegetables & grass growing areas.
Fungicide Maronee (250g/L Tebuconazole) – 1056 times more toxic than the active chemical
Triazole fungicide widely used on cereal crops.
As the Mesnage noted ‘These experiments have to be done in vivo to conclude on the degree of relevance for humans and animals of these numbers (1056X for tebuconazole), what we have here is more a proof of principle.’
Excepting the active ingredient, the other ingredients (even if they are toxic) are considered inert because they are supposed not to be directly responsible for the pesticide activity. Yet, commercial formulations are designed to have combined toxic effects.
'The fact that glyphosate is active in plants, does not mean that glyphosate is the most toxic ingredient in the mixture.
The secrecy on adjuvants allows manufacturers to change the composition of the formulation without long-term testing, to deal with competition and adapt to market demand.'
Quoting Mesnage: ‘To praise the efficiency (the toxicity) of their new formulations, manufacturers have no problems claiming that the new is different from the old, with new adjuvants.. When this is about the health effects this is another affair…’
'What are the consequences of this non-scientific concept?'
Regulatory authorisations of pesticides are based on long-term tests carried with the active ingredient alone.
Are adjuvants sufficiently inert and safe to escape long term testing?
Seralini and Mesnage both maintain that the consequences of this data gap, is that the ADI / RfD of glyphosate (Roundup) - and for pesticides in general - for the human population is underestimated as long as the adjuvants are neglected.
The current approvals throughout the world for the ADI for glyphosate are based on 30 year old, private corporate studies. While the ADI might be eg. 0.3mg/kg/day – scientists today believe due to the – in vivo results – we could be underestimating the ADI by 100,000.
- Exposure to adjuvants and their presence in the environment are never monitored.
- Farmers never use an active principle alone.
Pesticides have to be tested for chronic effects, as they are sold and used, as mixtures of active principles (ingredients) and adjuvants.
What are the consequences of this study?
1. The pesticides industry may spend a significant amount of money on PR (above and below the line) to quietly discredit Seralini, Mesnage and the laboratory they work out of to ensure that the facts of this study do not reach mainstream media.
2. People will start to understand that their food may be more toxic than previously thought. They may realise that particularly when it comes to wheat, it may not just be ‘the gluten’.
4. People will place less trust in regulators – these include the World Health Organisation, US Environmental Protection Agency, Europe’s EFSA.
5. People will be less able to trust their individual country regulators that assess toxicity of pesticides within their own country – Eg. NZ EPA.
6. Farmers and pesticides applicators may better understand the source of their illnesses.
7. Greater understanding may result in regards to bee decline and pollinator colony collapse.
8. We may better understand the impact on soils in 2015, Year of Soil.
9. We require open transparent debate. Conventionally farmed cereals can result in higher levels of dangerous moulds/fungi such as fusarium & mycotoxins than organic. Perhaps there is a cost to the consumer that needs to be identified. Perhaps there is a conversation that needs to hit the mainstream.
10. We more clearly understand the sustained growth of the organics sector.
NB. Fungus in cropping situations can be extremely dangerous and damaging to crops. Papers suggest fungal outbreaks may be less common in organic crops.