Glyphosate paper claims liver disease link in rats: Findings disputed by Monsanto as using 'flawed data'

The active ingredient in herbicide Roundup has been cited as a cause of liver disease after experiments on rats, but Monsanto has refuted the claims as "bad science".

The study, published in Nature Scientific reports, suggests that residues of glyphosate-based herbicides in food could be linked to rises in the incidence of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, obesity, diabetes and 'metabolic syndrome'.

The report states: "The results of the study presented imply that chronic consumption of extremely low levels of a GBH formulation (Roundup), at admissible glyphosate-equivalent concentrations, are associated with marked alterations of the liver proteome and metabolome. These changes in molecular profile overlap substantially with biomarkers of NAFLD and its progression to NASH. These alterations correlate with the observed signs of hepatic anatomorphological and biochemical pathological changes in this organ, and as suggested by transcriptome profiling. Confirmatory studies incorporating testing principles from endocrinology should be performed to investigate potential implications of GBH low dose exposure in the development of metabolic syndrome."

Monsanto said the study "uses flawed data from 2012, which was rejected by the wider scientific community due to a flawed scientific approach". 

"This new study relies on the same samples from a 2012 Seralini study that was determined to be scientifically flawed by multiple regulatory authorities around the world and was eventually retracted by the journal Food and Chemical Toxicology. Ultimately, this new study’s conclusions contradict numerous independent, peer-reviewed studies and assessments. The following are noteworthy points to help understand the context of this study:

"In 2012, both regulatory authorities the European Food Safety Authority and german Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) reviewed the retracted Seralini study and came to the same conclusion that the findings are not scientifically sound due to significant flaws in the study design and interpretation of the data.

"Glyphosate specifically inhibits an enzyme that is essential to plant growth; this enzyme is not found in humans or animals, contributing to the low risk to human and animal health when using glyphosate-based products according to label directions.

"Glyphosate has a long history of safe use. In evaluations spanning four decades, the overwhelming conclusion of experts worldwide has been that glyphosate, when used according to label directions, does not present an unreasonable risk of adverse effects to humans, wildlife or the environment.

"On a similar vein on 3 January 2017, a respected public-sector animal geneticist Alison Van Eenennaam, based at the Department of Animal Science at the University of California, US, published a detailed blog post that analyses another recent study in the same journal by the same researchers. She highlights red flags about the many experimental design problems of the study’s methodology, which invalidates their results.

"Strangely, the "conclusiony"-sounding title of the paper therefore had nothing to do with the experimental design or findings discussed in the paper," said Van Eenennaam.

"Van Eenennaam concludes that this research group has a track record of publishing highly controversial studies."

The Crop Protection Association said: "Glyphosate is amongst the most thoroughly tested herbicides on the market, and those studies by expert regulators have consistently concluded that glyphosate does not pose a risk to public health.

"Glyphosate is a crucial tool in a farmers' armoury. To put things in perspective, glyphosate is less toxic than baking soda, table salt, the caffeine in our coffee and many other products we all use or consume regularly."

Glyphosate has been the subject of registration debates within the EU but has an extension of use until December 2017.

See: Mesnage, R. et al. Multiomics reveal non-alcoholic fatty liver disease in rats following chronic exposure to an ultra-low dose of Roundup herbicide. Sci. Rep. 7, 39328; doi: 10.1038/srep39328 (2017).

  • See Horticulture Week's dedicated glyphosate page

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