Forsaking farmers suffering from CKDu not an option
Posted on December 28th, 2016

By Dr Kamal Wickremasinghe Courtesy The Island

Dr U. P. de S Waidyanatha’s (Dr W) gyrations against the suggestion of this writer in The Island of 7 December, that the ban on Glyphosate should be maintained in view of its suspected role on the Chronic Kidney Disease of unknown origin (CKDu) are typical of the tactics employed by those associated with the chemicals industry against any sign of challenge to their dictums. In fact, reading Dr W’s criticism takes the mind back to an article titled, “Taking arms against the mercenaries” in New Scientist (issue 2028) of 4 May 1996 by the Scottish moral philosopher Alastair Mcintosh of the University of Edinburgh.

Mcintosh’s article focused primarily on the 1993 British White Paper on science and technologywhich he described as “a business executive’s charter”, due to the utilitarian view of science it promoted through a regime of trade related intellectual property (IP) rights. He saw the emerging IP rights agenda as an attempt to replace colonialism with ‘colonising knowledge’ through global patents and copyrights. In a telling coincidence, Mcintosh had chosen the example of Sri Lanka to illustrate the impact of new patented seed varieties that heavily depended on fertilisers and pesticides in replacing local varieties, asserting that only 27 of Sri Lanka’s 280 traditional rice varieties were still available at the time.

Alastair Macintosh’s repudiation of ‘industrial agriculture’ came three decades after the introduction of the ‘semi dwarf’ ricevariety IR8, the so-called Miracle Rice that marked the start of the fraud branded the Green Revolution. The developing world, as usual, fell for a cynical marketing ploy for agrochemicals, engineered by the deceptively-labelled International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) — a joint venture between the Rockefeller and Ford Foundations — formed with the objective of gaining control over the supply of Asia’s staple food, rice: graphs depicting population growth against estimated figures of rice production were used to spread fears of an impending famine, promising developments in plant breeding might just be the trick that would avert the impending disaster. The trick with dwarf rice — in addition to its unpalatability — however, was that it stood no chance of survival in the fields without the protection provided by ‘ship loads’ of weedicides and pesticides, produced and marketed by American multinationals. It took more than 25 years for the developing world to open their eyes to the deception.

Reading Dr W’s zealous defence of glyphosate — based on a nearly classic example of the informal fallacy of ‘attacking a straw man’ — makes one wonder whether some people may have been living in a parallel universe. More disturbingly, the attack shows the effectiveness of Western propaganda in corrupting modern “science” and converting so-called ‘scientists’ in the developing world — those without critical thinking capacity at least— to play the role of ‘pied pipers’ for their schemes.

The proposition put forward by Dr W seems to be that glyphosate is not nephrotoxic “at levels recommended for weed control” of 1mg/kg body weight. In saying so, Dr W appears to place absolute faith in Monsanto’s propaganda, dismissing contradictory local and international research evidence (cited below). Dr W’s appeal for the continued use of Glyphosate, however, appears to be based on the grounds that Sri Lankan agriculture will be unable to function without it. Probably, Dr W will benefit from better informing himself urgently of the pre-20th century agricultural achievements in our little island, which took place thousands of years before the advent of agrochemicals and patented seeds in the 1960s and 1970s.

The best way of addressing the ‘straw man technique’of Dr W would be to restate the essence of the 7 December article: continuing from opening comments on president Sirisena’s unjustified attack on the media, the issue of CKDu in Sri Lanka was addressed following a brief foray in to the work of twoSri Lankan CKDu research teams based at the Universities of Peradeniya and at Rajarata,respectively, and the debate between them on the possible cause(s) of CKDu.

The primary focus on the article was to suggest a pathway for future government policy and action in managing the dreaded disease from a public health perspective, rather than to buy in to the debate on its possible cause(s). This writer was careful to present a summary of views of the two research teams — observing that the Peradeniya team appeared to be suffering from an unjustified ‘superiority complex’ as displayed by attempts to denigrate the work of the Rajarata team — emphasising that both sides of the current argument are based on nothing more than ‘opinions’. (Dr W seems to be biased in his reference to the glyphosate view as a ‘hypothesis’, while seemingly keen to spread almost all other speculation as gospel truths. He also condemns Rajarata work as published in a ‘fee-levying journal run by a Chinese living in Switzerland’, refuted by several highly reputed chemists in Sri Lanka – presumably all in the Peradeniya team.)

This writer’s primary contention, after a few brief comments on the medical phenomenon of causation, was that final agreement on the causes of CKDu was not essential or even necessary in order for the government to take action aimed at ameliorating the problem. The aim was to point to the Precautionary Principle (developed in the wake of the “smoking debacle”) that has been deployed by international and national bodies for several decades now. The Precautionary Principle prescribes that scientifically establishing cause and effect relationships is not relevant for government action under situations where an activity raises threats of harm to human health.

Weak limbs of a straw man

Based on a classic ‘straw man argument’, Dr W accuses this writer of ‘missing the wood for the trees’, and of having not studied the matter in depth and totality, adding: “Contrary to KW’s assertion, the recommendations in the Consultation Report do not in any way support the ban on glyphosate”. It needs to be emphasised that, notwithstanding evidence of widespread use of glyphosate causing the destruction of ‘woods’ around the world including all grasses, broad leaved plants and trees, this writer certainly did not miss the wood for the trees.

I never said that the Consultation Report supported the Glyphosate ban. Such an assertion was not necessary to support the thrust of the case I was making in the article. I merely stated that the recommendations of the Consultation as given on the Chapter on Moving Forward of the Report (p29-34) — of surveillance, research, priority interventions, social services, capacity building and monitoring and accountability —was medically and scientifically prudent. I meant to compliment the lack of any apparent attemptsby the Consultation to reverse the ban on glyphosate.

The major worry about Dr W’s reaction to the article, however, is his refusal to believe the existence of evidence of any association between glyphosate and CKDu (similar to Bradford Hill criteria pointing to the relationship between lung cancer and smoking) that justify the adoption of the precautionary principle. After repeating the demonstrable untruth that there has been no “acceptable” scientific evidence to link glyphosate and CKDu — and that all glyphosate measurements in soil, vegetable and water in Sri Lanka are far below safety limits established for EU and USA — Dr W expects this writer to appreciate the same: not on one’s life!

Evidence of links between glyphosate and kidney disease

The following references — a small sample of what is available — are provided for Dr W’s easy reference of the links between glyphosate, its formulations and kidney damage:

1.Wunnapuket al.,(2014).Use of a glyphosate-based herbicide-induced nephrotoxicity model to investigate a panel of kidney injury biomarkers. Toxicol Lett, 225(1):192-200.

2. Maet al.,(2015). Immunological and histopathological responses of the kidney of common carp (Cyprinus carpioL.) sublethally exposed to glyphosate. Environ Toxicol Pharmacol, 39(1):1-8

3. Mesnageet al.,(2015).Transcriptome profile analysis reflects rat liver and kidney damage following chronic ultra-low dose Roundup exposure. Environ Health, 14:70-84(Dr W needs to pay special attention to the work of Dr Michael Antoniou of the Gene Expression & Therapy Group at King’s College, London).

4. Larsenet al.,(2012). Effects of sub-lethal exposure of rats to the herbicide glyphosate in drinking water: reduced glutathione and lipid peroxidation in liver, kidneys and small intestine. Environ Toxicol Pharmacol, 34(3):811–8.

The above papers are examples of demonstrations of kidney damage caused by glyphosate and its formulations in specialised, non-standard in vivo studies as well as in vitro studies using specific mammalian cell lines or other test systems and aquatic species.These studies contrast with Monsanto “research” that follow a standardised study design with a limited range of endpoints, mainly focussed on the oral route of exposure, focussed on glyphosate only, excluding glyphosate-based formulations. Such studies naturally overlook important aspects of toxicity and underestimates risks and hazards associated with chemicals.

Third World scientists need to be guided by a critical, conscionable mindset

It is worrying that many scientists who consider themselves ‘experts’ and exhibiting laughable signs of elitism (such as the group of signatories who requested a review of the glyphosate ban) do not appear to be critically analysing the information at their disposal.

An independent, rigorous personal review of the possible toxicity of glyphosate or any other chemical compound to humans needs to begin with an analysis of its chemical structure and mode(s) of action and the potential for replicating such in human systems under exposure. Glyphosate is known to act in plants by preventing the binding of phosphoenol pyruvate to the active site of the plant-specific enzyme 5-enolpyruvoyl-shikimate-3-phosphate synthetase (EPSPS). Phosphoenolpyruvate however, is a core metabolite in all organisms, and glyphosate is known to adversely affect a number of enzymes in the cytochrome P450 (CYP) ‘super family’ found in all domains of life, carrying out a variety of metabolic and biosynthetic processes.

This information shows glyphosate has the potential to interfere with numerous mammalian biochemical pathways, including inhibition of numerous enzymes, causing metabolic disturbances and cell and tissue damage. Genotoxicity and endocrine disruption that lead to chronic health and developmental effects also has been demonstrated.

In addition, glyphosate formulations may contain a number of so-called ‘inert’ ingredients, most of which are considered trade secrets and not publicly revealed. An important ingredient in some glyphosate formulations is the surfactant polyethoxylated tallow amine (POEA) — a fat rendered from cattle and sheep fat — added to improve penetration of glyphosate into the target plant. Information available at least since 1997 has showed that POEA was more toxic to fish and amphibians than glyphosate itself. Although Monsanto product fact sheets do not disclose the POEA content in its products, analyses from the US and New Zealand have showed contents varying between 15 and 20%. Other formulations may contain much higher levels, even as high as 60-80%, as in the formulation Genamin (Ethoxylated adjuvants of glyphosate-based herbicides are active principles of human cell toxicity. Mesnage et al 2013, Toxicology, 2012.09.00). The effects of POEA on humans can vary from simple eye irritation to penetration of cell membranes, disrupting their structure and function. Other ‘inerts’ such as propylene glycol,glycerine, sodium sulfite, sodium benzoate, sorbic acid, o-phenylphenol, Methyl p-hydroxybenzoate have all caused geneticdamage,reducedfertility,andanaemia in laboratory tests.

Moving on to the specific issue of kidney damage, kidney and liver are the main target organs for glyphosate with studies showing disruption of gene expression, alterations of enzyme levels, interference in mitochondrial metabolism, oxidative damage and kidney tumours. Metabolic studies of farm and laboratory animals have showed residue levels of glyphosate and its metabolite Aminomethyl phosphonic acid (AMPA) 10-100 times higher in kidneys (European Food Safety Authority, 2015). Histopathological changes in the kidneys of male rats following oral Roundup administration, included necrotic cells and pycnosis (irreversible condensation of chromatin in the nucleus of a cell), apoptotic cells and total cell death.The tubular interstitial nephritis associated with mononuclear cell infiltration, glomerularsclerosis, tubularatrophy, and tubular proteinurea associated with CKDu in Sri Lanka could be manifestations of such damage at nuclear or chromosome level.

Devil is blacker than you may have guessed

An assessment of ‘believability of Monsanto’s assurances that glyphosate is “safe to sprinkle on toast” needs to be preceded by considerations of its corporate history: Monsanto fails abysmally on these grounds.

Monsanto was founded by a man named John Francis Queeny in 1901, and named the company after his wife Olga Mendez Monsanto. The company’s first product was saccharin, sold to a soft drink giant as an artificial sweetener, later expanding into industrial chemicals and drugs, becoming the world’s largest maker of aspirin. In the 1950s, Monsanto introduced polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) to the world — initially hailed as a wonder chemical with limitless applications — until it was identified as a potent carcinogen implicated in reproductive, developmental and immune system disorders. In 2003, Monsanto reached a USD 700 million settlement with the residents of West Anniston, Alabama who had been affected by the manufacturing and dumping of PCBs. The jury in the case held Monsanto liable on all counts it considered – including negligence, nuisance, wantonness and suppression of the truth. PCBs were eventually banned by the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants in 2001, after causing 50 years of devastation.

The most disgraceful episode of Monsanto’s history came in the 1960s when it along with DOW Chemical, producedthe dioxin-containing herbicide Agent Orange for use in the US invasion of Vietnam, causing a half-million Vietnamese civilian deaths, a half-million Vietnamese babies born with birth defects, over three million Vietnamese contaminated, and thousands of US veterans suffering or dying from its effects to this day. Internal company memos introduced in court in a 2002 trial showed Monsanto was fully aware of the deadly effects of dioxin in Agent Orange, but hid them from the public to maintain sales to the US government, assuring their own “research” that concluded dioxin posed no negative health concerns whatsoever.

In response to the first US Agent Orange class-action lawsuit filed by military personnel in 1980, Monsanto first denied any link between Agent Orange and the veterans’ medical problems. Later, in 1984, they settled the class-action suit out of court, offering USD 180 million as compensation. Similar claims by the affected Vietnamese were dismissed by the US legal system in 2004. After seven years of litigation, in 2013, Monsanto reached a settlement with the town of Nitro, West Virginia, agreeing to pay USD 93 million for compensatory damages, clean up, and ongoing monitoring of dioxin contamination in the area around a plant where Agent Orange was made.

Faced with mounting claims for damages caused by its poisons trade, Monsanto merged with Pharmacia & Upjohn in 2000, hiving-off its chemicals business and rebranding itself as an agricultural company. Then Monsanto became one of the first companies to apply the biotechnology industry business model of recouping the research and development costs through the use and enforcement of biological patents to agriculture.

In 2008 Monsanto agreed “to assume financial responsibility for all litigation relating to property damage, personal injury, products liability or premises liability or other damages related to asbestos, PCB, dioxin, benzene, vinyl chloride and other chemicals it manufactured.

In 2015, a French appeals court found Monsanto guilty of chemical poisoning of a farmer who had used the aniline herbicide Alachlor (chloroacetanilide), the second most widely used herbicide in the US banned in the European Union, ordering the company to “fully compensate” the grower.

In 2005, it admitted to the US Department of Justice J violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and making false entries into its books and records, in a case involving a USD 50,000 bribe paid in 2002, to a high-level official in Indonesia’s environment ministry responsible for the agency’s assessment on its genetically modified cotton. Monsanto was fined USD1.5 million.

Monsanto has also got into trouble repeatedly for its bold lying on product safety. In 1996, the Attorney General of New York ordered Monsanto to pull ads that claimed Roundup was “safer than table salt” and “practically nontoxic” to mammals, birds and fish. In 1999, the UK Advertising Standards Authority condemned Monsanto for making “misleading, unproven and wrong” claims about its products. In 2001, French environmental and consumer rights campaigners brought a case against Monsanto for misleading the public asRoundup having noenvironmental impact. In 2007, Monsanto and its French distributor were convicted of false claims on biodegradability of Roundup and fined. Monsanto appeal up to the French Supreme Court failed in 2009. In August 2012, a Brazilian Regional Federal Court ordered Monsanto to pay a USD 250,000 fine for false advertising.

The problems of science

Ultimately, however, the issues relating to glyphosate the Sri Lankan government is trying to come to grips with are complicated by the twentieth century developments in the field of science that has lost its intellectual honesty. Science has been ‘corporatised’ and scientific communications increasingly tied to propaganda for particular social and economic theories oriented to the goals of the Western states and capitalism. It has become a form of Higher Superstition showing logical flaws and sloppy scholarship, reinforced by a compliant peer review system that seems to have replaced ‘falsifiability’ with ‘consensus’ as the primary test of objective knowledge.

Brian Martin, professor of social sciences at the University of Wollongong (Australia), whose speciality is situations in which scientific research that threatens vested interests can be suppressed, identifies a number of direct and indirect mechanisms, ranging from the denial of funds, promotion and tenure, through to the creation of a “general climate of fear” — employed by universities and corporations for the purpose.

Attempt to present science as the unitary, ethereal and ultimate system of objective knowledge could not succeed any longer. In the final analysis, scientists have no guaranteed method to determine the reality of nature — or, indeed, the nature of reality. They can only develop models to describe it, based on the models drawn partly from current ideas about society, giving rise to circular reasoning: a central metaphor in Charles Darwin’s views on human evolution, competition — a struggle in which the fittest survive — was based on ideas about society presented earlier by Thomas Malthus, who described society as inherently competitive. The social Darwinists who came after D arwin emphasised only the competitive aspects of Darwin’s hypothesis, providing a convenient justification for ruthless capitalist exploitation.

The problems of knowledge and truth engendered by modern science have evolved in the Twentieth Century to a form that strongly limits the knowledge that people could gain in the future in the complex areas of biology, medicine and environmental science. A new scientific epistemology in which scientific uncertainty regarding the system is acknowledged, and the extent of validly available knowledge is humbly defined, demarcated and integrated, before attempting to alter the course of Nature — as in the treatment of end-stage conditions in medicine — should govern our approach to all issues including how to deal with the one about glyphosate.

In the light of above reasoning, there are clear indications that glyphosate is capable of causing generalised cell damage, effects on the endocrine system and organ damage. As to its role in relation to CKDu, it is completely plausible that its causative role is activated only when associated with other factors, as has been suggested by the Rajarata University research team. Placing utmost trust in assurances by a company of the ilk of Monsanto would be tantamount to forsaking the farmers sick with CKDu!

That should never happen.

2 Responses to “Forsaking farmers suffering from CKDu not an option”

  1. Fran Diaz Says:

    Our grateful thanks to Dr Kamal Wickremasinghe for staying with the truth about the action of Glyphosate in the human body.

    We agree that the farmers of Sri Lanka affected by CKD must NEVER be forsaken.


    Add :

    It has been scientifically established and proven that the human gut bacteria have the same pathway inside as weeds – the Shikimate Pathway. This is the pathway taken by the Glyphosate weedkiller to kill weeds.
    So the Glyphosate that kills the weeds, will kill the human gut bacteria too.
    Thus the human digestive system is depleted of healthy gut bacteria and the human body is badly affected, and ill health results. CKD is one of the diseases prevalent due to Glyphosate interference in the body.

    Why are the RRI (Rice Research Institute), the TRI (Tea Research Inst) and the RRI (Rubber Research Inst) silent on this matter ?

    There are many articles in Google on the topic of Glyphosate/Shikimate Pathway.

  2. Dilrook Says:

    Thank you Dr Kamal Wickremasinghe for exposing the truth.

    Unfortunately the Sri Lankan born academia and professionals suffer what affects its politics – serious conflict of interest making some of them unable to tell the truth as it is.

    I would say placing utmost trust in assurances by a company of the ilk of Monsanto and now its new partner Bayer would be tantamount to forsaking the farmers and others sick with CKDu and many more hitherto undiscovered sicknesses!

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