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Facts and Fallacies in the Debate on Glyphosate Toxicity

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      Abstract

      The safety profile of the herbicide glyphosate and its commercial formulations is controversial. Reviews have been published by individuals who are consultants and employees of companies commercializing glyphosate-based herbicides in support of glyphosate’s reapproval by regulatory agencies. These authors conclude that glyphosate is safe at levels below regulatory permissible limits. In contrast, reviews conducted by academic scientists independent of industry report toxic effects below regulatory limits, as well as shortcomings of the current regulatory evaluation of risks associated with glyphosate exposures. Two authors in particular (Samsel and Seneff) have published a series of commentaries proposing that long-term exposure to glyphosate is responsible for many chronic diseases (including cancers, diabetes, neuropathies, obesity, asthma, infections, osteoporosis, infertility, and birth defects). The aim of this review is to examine the evidential basis for these claimed negative health effects and the mechanisms that are alleged to be at their basis. We found that these authors inappropriately employ a deductive reasoning approach based on syllogism. We found that their conclusions are not supported by the available scientific evidence. Thus, the mechanisms and vast range of conditions proposed to result from glyphosate toxicity presented by Samsel and Seneff in their commentaries are at best unsubstantiated theories, speculations, or simply incorrect. This misrepresentation of glyphosate’s toxicity misleads the public, the scientific community, and regulators. Although evidence exists that glyphosate-based herbicides are toxic below regulatory set safety limits, the arguments of Samsel and Seneff largely serve to distract rather than to give a rational direction to much needed future research investigating the toxicity of these pesticides, especially at levels of ingestion that are typical for human populations.

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      Most cited references 40

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      Carcinogenicity of tetrachlorvinphos, parathion, malathion, diazinon, and glyphosate.

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        Trends in glyphosate herbicide use in the United States and globally

        Background Accurate pesticide use data are essential when studying the environmental and public health impacts of pesticide use. Since the mid-1990s, significant changes have occurred in when and how glyphosate herbicides are applied, and there has been a dramatic increase in the total volume applied. Methods Data on glyphosate applications were collected from multiple sources and integrated into a dataset spanning agricultural, non-agricultural, and total glyphosate use from 1974–2014 in the United States, and from 1994–2014 globally. Results Since 1974 in the U.S., over 1.6 billion kilograms of glyphosate active ingredient have been applied, or 19 % of estimated global use of glyphosate (8.6 billion kilograms). Globally, glyphosate use has risen almost 15-fold since so-called “Roundup Ready,” genetically engineered glyphosate-tolerant crops were introduced in 1996. Two-thirds of the total volume of glyphosate applied in the U.S. from 1974 to 2014 has been sprayed in just the last 10 years. The corresponding share globally is 72 %. In 2014, farmers sprayed enough glyphosate to apply ~1.0 kg/ha (0.8 pound/acre) on every hectare of U.S.-cultivated cropland and nearly 0.53 kg/ha (0.47 pounds/acre) on all cropland worldwide. Conclusions Genetically engineered herbicide-tolerant crops now account for about 56 % of global glyphosate use. In the U.S., no pesticide has come remotely close to such intensive and widespread use. This is likely the case globally, but published global pesticide use data are sparse. Glyphosate will likely remain the most widely applied pesticide worldwide for years to come, and interest will grow in quantifying ecological and human health impacts. Accurate, accessible time-series data on glyphosate use will accelerate research progress. Electronic supplementary material The online version of this article (doi:10.1186/s12302-016-0070-0) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
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          Ethoxylated adjuvants of glyphosate-based herbicides are active principles of human cell toxicity.

          Pesticides are always used in formulations as mixtures of an active principle with adjuvants. Glyphosate, the active ingredient of the major pesticide in the world, is an herbicide supposed to be specific on plant metabolism. Its adjuvants are generally considered as inert diluents. Since side effects for all these compounds have been claimed, we studied potential active principles for toxicity on human cells for 9 glyphosate-based formulations. For this we detailed their compositions and toxicities, and as controls we used a major adjuvant (the polyethoxylated tallowamine POE-15), glyphosate alone, and a total formulation without glyphosate. This was performed after 24h exposures on hepatic (HepG2), embryonic (HEK293) and placental (JEG3) cell lines. We measured mitochondrial activities, membrane degradations, and caspases 3/7 activities. The compositions in adjuvants were analyzed by mass spectrometry. Here we demonstrate that all formulations are more toxic than glyphosate, and we separated experimentally three groups of formulations differentially toxic according to their concentrations in ethoxylated adjuvants. Among them, POE-15 clearly appears to be the most toxic principle against human cells, even if others are not excluded. It begins to be active with negative dose-dependent effects on cellular respiration and membrane integrity between 1 and 3ppm, at environmental/occupational doses. We demonstrate in addition that POE-15 induces necrosis when its first micellization process occurs, by contrast to glyphosate which is known to promote endocrine disrupting effects after entering cells. Altogether, these results challenge the establishment of guidance values such as the acceptable daily intake of glyphosate, when these are mostly based on a long term in vivo test of glyphosate alone. Since pesticides are always used with adjuvants that could change their toxicity, the necessity to assess their whole formulations as mixtures becomes obvious. This challenges the concept of active principle of pesticides for non-target species. Copyright © 2012 Elsevier Ireland Ltd. All rights reserved.
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            Author and article information

            Affiliations
            1Gene Expression and Therapy Group, Faculty of Life Sciences and Medicine, Department of Medical and Molecular Genetics, King’s College London, Guy’s Hospital , London, United Kingdom
            Author notes

            Edited by: Ruixue Huang, Central South University, China

            Reviewed by: Francisco Sánchez-Bayo, University of Sydney, Australia; Jean Golding, University of Bristol, United Kingdom

            *Correspondence: Michael N. Antoniou, michael.antoniou@ 123456kcl.ac.uk

            Specialty section: This article was submitted to Environmental Health, a section of the journal Frontiers in Public Health

            Contributors
            URI : http://frontiersin.org/people/u/396362
            Journal
            Front Public Health
            Front Public Health
            Front. Public Health
            Frontiers in Public Health
            Frontiers Media S.A.
            2296-2565
            24 November 2017
            2017
            : 5
            5705608
            10.3389/fpubh.2017.00316
            Copyright © 2017 Mesnage and Antoniou.

            This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) or licensor are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

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            Figures: 1, Tables: 0, Equations: 0, References: 39, Pages: 7, Words: 5794
            Categories
            Public Health
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