The Next Big Short

Mike Burry, the hedge fund manager featured in the movie The Big Short, anticipated the housing crash by reading loan documents. Similarly, those in the food and agriculture arena predict a massive shift in farming practices by studying the inimical effects of the widely used weedkiller, RoundUp®.

Glyphosate (the main ingredient in RoundUp®) has been under fire lately for its effects on human health. In March 2015, 17 experts from 11 countries analyzed the effect of glyphosate at the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) and deemed it a probable carcinogen. It's important to note that the USA uses 20% of the world's RoundUp® yet only comprises 5% of the world's population.

As a result of the World Health Organisation's (WHO) announcement that glyphosate is a probable carcinogen, many law firms are opening class action suits against billion dollar chemical industry leaders.(1,2,3,4,5)

Matthew Philips, a Las Vegas attorney, is suing Monsanto for false advertising. The filing papers state, "Defendant makes the claim that Roundup®, the world's most popular weedkiller, works by targeting an enzyme supposedly found only in plants, but not in people. And this is blatantly false."

The reason it's false is that, as a registered antibiotic, glyphosate kills essential gut bacteria. Without these bacteria, humans cannot manufacture enzymes that produce seratonin and dopamine, the feel-good chemicals. Glyphosate also disrupts our ability to absorb essential minerals such as iron, zinc, sulfur, cobalt (a precursor of Vit. B12), and manganese. Gut bacteria are necessary to produce, digest and absorb critical enzymes and nutrients such as Vitamin D that protect against Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), gluten intolerance, and colitis, among other things. For these reasons, MIT researchers Stephanie Seneff and Anthony Samsel warn that glyphosate may be the main cause in the steep rise of these and other disorders.

The lack of manganese in children is especially concerning, as it makes glutamate, a common flavor enhancer in food, more neurotoxic than it would be if glyphosate weren't present. A study by Page et al. showed that there was significantly more glutamate in the brain of ASD patients than normal controls. Studies on the safety of glyphosate are regularly conducted in isolation, and therefore cannot be conclusive about its safety when combined with other environmental or dietary factors.

While glyphosate is commonly used on genetically engineered (GE or GMO) crops, consumers cannot be certain to avoid the chemical simply by eating GMO-free. Glyphosate is regularly sprayed on wheat, barley, oats, flax, peas, lentils, beans and sugar cane as a dessicant, forcing plants to dry out faster and killing weeds in the process to prepare for the next crop. Unless labeled "organic" by the USDA, there is no certainty that GMO-free means glyphosate-free. Avoiding glyphosate in the water supply is another matter, too large for the scope of this article.

Cases against manufacturers of glyphosate such as Monsanto must prove that they covered up or falsified research data. Both the EPA and Monsanto have used the rationale that their research should be private because of the proprietary nature of Monsanto's trade secrets. Therefore, even with a Freedom of Information Act request filed at the EPA, MIT researcher Samsel was, at first, unable to obtain the EPA's documents.

Fortunately, with the help of his senator, Samsel obtained 15,000 pages of reports submitted to the EPA. Samsel and Seneff found that Monsanto has known for nearly 30 years that glyphosate is responsible for a wide variety of cancers and organ failures.

When Monsanto submitted their reports on the chemical to obtain market approval, they asked that all the "studies that were done on animals be sealed [at the EPA] and marked as trade secrets, property of Monsanto corporation," said Samsel. "The public review process was actually violated, in my opinion, as no members of the scientific community or the public could see the documents that Monsanto submitted to get glyphosate registered." The industry's own research provided "multiple studies where they showed deleterious effects, multiple adenomas and carcinomas," according to Samsel.

Antoniou et al of the European Union reviewed the chemical industry's own research showing birth defects at very low levels of glyphosate. They found "regulators knew as long ago as the 1980s and 1990s that glyphosate causes malformations -- but that this was not made public."

Besides lawsuits, chemical manufacturers have to be concerned with broad bans of their products. Sri Lanka, the Netherlands, Columbia, El Salvador and Bermuda have placed outright bans or strict limits on its use. Brazil, Germany, and Argentina are considering legislative bans. France banned its use in gardens. The cities of Richmond, California, Chicago, Takoma Park, Maryland, and Boulder have banned its use. Boulder County in Colorado is seeking to expand their glyphosate-free zone. Proposals are in the works for New York City and Marin County.

Bans of glyphosate and health concerns surrounding agricultural chemicals are sure to impact Monsanto's bottom line. 50% of their business relies on sales of RoundUp® and RoundUp Ready® seeds. Similar complications will reverberate through the industry, giving pause to investors.

Note: I have compiled a list of ingredients that may contain glyphosate and glutamate so that you can avoid them when shopping for food.

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