This week reports in two highly respected medical journals—the Lancet and the New England Journal of Medicine—agree that weed killers used with genetically modified crops (commonly known as GMOs), such as corn and soybeans, cause cancer. These reports arrive amidst a controversy that has raged ever since the introduction of GMOs into general use.
In March 2015, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), a highly respected agency based in Lyon, France, reported that chemical glyphosate (used in the weedkiller Roundup®) probably causes cancer in humans (classification 2A). It was noted that glyphosate produces DNA and chromosome damage. IARC also noted that 2-4D, a component of Agent Orange, possibly causes cancer.
Despite this scientific finding, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 2014 approved a pesticide called Enlist Duo, a new combination of glyphosate + 2-4D, for use as a weed killer to overcome resistance to Roundup®. This is to be marketed in tandem with newly approved seeds resistant to this weed killer combination.
The editorial in last week’s NEJM strongly emphasizes the dangers of this approach and the flawed science behind the decision to approve Enlist Duo. Two recommendations are made by the authors, Philip J. Landrigan, M.D. from the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City and Charles Benbrook, PhD from Washington State University in Pullman. First, they recommend delaying the decision to approve Enlist Duo until further studies and reviews can occur. In addition, they argue that the safety of Roundup® (glyphosate alone) should be re-evaluated. Problems with the use of glyphosate have emerged around the globe, including in Argentina, a major producer of GMO soybeans using Roundup.®
In 64 countries, the labeling of foods produced with GMO crops is required due to health concerns, but not in the US. The NEJM editorial authors recommend that it is time to revisit this issue and that labeling be considered in the US. Many consumers insist on the right to know. With this recent re-affirmation of the potentially very dangerous exposure to toxic chemicals linked to GMO crops, there is a strong right to know. Any such labeling should be introduced along with the need for decisive studies to evaluate safety.
So why is this all so important for myeloma patients? The toxic chemicals involved are definitely linked to the occurrence of what is called “lymphoid cancers,” which includes myeloma. These are the chemicals included in Agent Orange and part of the toxic mix which occurred during exposures at the 9/11 event.
The awareness of possible toxic exposures from foods has led to increasing demand for fresh, safe ingredients. I recommend that myeloma patients be part of that trend! Now is the time to pay attention to what careful scientists are saying as they report their results. In addition, there is a renewed need to explain the risks of chemical exposure to another vulnerable population – pregnant women.
I will definitely continue to assess further research results and decisions from IARC, EPA, FDA, and/or other government agencies. Stay tuned!
Dr. Brian G.M. Durie serves as Chairman of the International Myeloma Foundation and serves on its Scientific Advisory Board. Additionally, he is Chairman of the IMF's International Myeloma Working Group, a consortium of nearly 200 myeloma experts from around the world. Dr. Durie also leads the IMF’s Black Swan Research Initiative®.