Lobbyist and public relations consultant Dr. Patrick Moore made a bold statement about drinking glyphosate and an offhanded comment about farmers attempting suicide during an interview. The video footage has gone viral as many anti-GMO activists point out his unwillingness to drink the herbicide that is commonly used on genetically modified crops after stating, “You can drink a whole quart of it, and it won’t hurt you.”
The interviewer tells Moore that he has a cup of glyphosate that he could drink to prove his point, but Dr. Moore refuses, saying that he isn’t “stupid.” After more insistance from the interviewer, Moore still refused to drink the glyphosate, after affirming its safety, stating, “People try to commit suicide with it and fail fairly regularly. It’s not dangerous to humans.”
However, Moore’s comment about farmers’ suicides evoked discord because, apart from glyphosate formulations actually being used in farmers’ suicides, exposure to glyphosate and other organophosphates has been potentially implicated by scientists in elevating suicide risk. Merck Manuals lists glyphosate as an organophosphate, but is clear that a one-time, accidental ingestion with less than a mouthful is not very toxic, nor immediately deadly.
Glyphosate is much less acutely toxic than many other chemical pesticides. The dose of glyphosate that can kill half of a test group of rats, according to the glyphosate MSDS, is set at greater than 5,000 mg/kg. Given that the density of glyphosate is 1.70 g/cm³, 5000 mg of glyphosate is equal to 2.94 mL of glyphosate. The LD50 (lethal dose required to kill half of all test subjects) equivalent for the average-sized North American man would be greater than 235 mL (greater than about a quarter of a quart) of glyphosate. With this information, glyphosate would be classified as not acutely toxic at all, and Dr. Moore was correct that if the cup of herbicide offered to him was only glyphosate, it would probably not pose an immediate danger of killing him.
However, what if the cup he was offered was actually a glyphosate formulation like RoundUp, the product most commonly associated as a glyphosate formulation?
RoundUp contains 41 percent glyphosate in its standard concentration and can be acutely toxic to humans, according to scientific research.
“Accidental ingestion of glyphosate formulations is generally associated with only mild, transient, gastrointestinal features,” according to Toxicological Reviews, which went on to state that “most reported cases [of glyphosate poisoning] have followed the deliberate ingestion of the concentrated formulation of Roundup.”
The review of glyphosate poisonings further states that ingestion of greater than “85 mL of the concentrated formulation [of RoundUp] is likely to cause significant toxicity in adults.” The dose of 85 mL would equal only 0.0898 quarts of RoundUp and would consist of only 0.0368 quarts of glyphosate. So, if the cup of glyphosate that had been offered to him to drink was actually a glyphosate-based formulation, it could have been significantly toxic.
In the last decade, more than 250,000 Indian farmers have reportedly committed suicide. That number is steadily increasing, and some of those farmers committed suicide by ingesting the pesticides they once used on their crops. Moore’s mentioning of failed attempts at suicide struck a nerve, because farmers’ suicides are such a concern that parts of India have been coined the “suicide belt,” and some refer to the phenomenon as “GM genocide.”
According to EcoWatch, glyphosate is technically an organophosphate, but it shouldn’t affect the nervous system because it’s not a cholinesterase inhibitor. An article published in the journal Neurotoxicity claims that “exposure to organophosphate pesticides affecting non-cholinergic systems may contribute to depression, impulsivity or some combination of these disturbances in mood and could explain an elevated association of organophosphate exposure with [farmer] suicide.” Additionally, glyphosate is included in pesticide formulations alongside cholinesterase inhibitors frequently.
“Work continues on this issue worldwide and most studies have supported an association between pesticide exposures and depression,” Dr. Lorann Stallones, professor and director of the graduate program in public health at Colorado State University, said to this Inquisitr author in an email of the broader study of organophosphates and their potential link to depression and suicide ideation.
Stallones was a lead author on an article in Journal of Agromedicine which found evidence for risk-taking behaviors and injury from ever having been poisoned by pesticides. She believes there could be a neurological effect from organophosphate exposure, though she did not make any correlation to any particular brands specifically, and has completed a significant amount of work trying to pinpoint just what that link could be.
“There is the added issue that in many countries with high farmer suicide rates (e.g. India, China),” Stallones said, adding that “the means chosen for the suicide is a pesticide, so that confounds our ability to provide a definitive link between past exposures to pesticides and completed suicides.”
Genetic Literacy Project brought up the issue of farmers’ suicides, and stated that research into an association by the Cathie Marsh Centre for Census and Survey Research between the genetically modified Bt cotton and Indian farmers’ suicides indicates that farming Bt cotton seems to have decreased the rate of farmers’ suicides, not increased it. Still, a look at the actual paper shows that the conclusion was less than certain, and in actuality, the report brought up by the Genetic Literacy Project is not that different from those proposed by studies done by Stallones and her fellow researchers.
“It should also be recognised that conclusions from the statistical models are based on a relatively short time series of at most 16 observations per state, with only seven observations after official Bt adoption in the northern region and 10 for the central and southern regions. The series is too short for standard time series approaches (ARIMA 3 modelling for example) and so inferences rely on appropriate estimates of parameters that reflect interruptions or breaks in the series and which account for autocorrelation and heteroscedasticity. It is, however, unlikely that data for years after 2011 would change conclusions substantially as Bt adoption rates are now so high.”
Several years ago, Monsanto released a new crop of cotton which was both Bt cotton and RoundUp ready. In other words, the plant is genetically modified to resist death from glyphosate and contains a built in pesticide mechanism, according to Monsanto. According to a growing body of research, each year that pestilent weeds are exposed to glyphosate and other herbicides, they become increasingly resistant to it, and more is needed. Additionally and more recently, cotton technology was created allowing GM cotton plants to resist death from glyphosate, dicamba, and glufosinate. Dicamba does inhibit acetylcholinesterase, according to the Journal of Pesticide Reform. Glufosinate is another cholinesterase-inhibitor.
The conclusion that it’s unlikely that data after 2011 would change anything is just a scientific assumption. The issue for scientists investigating a link between organophosphates and farmer suicide rates has been with the application of the chemical pesticides. According to PBS, “crop failure can often be traced to Bt cotton,” so farmers can face the psychological hardships of losing their family’s income in the event that the crop doesn’t perform as well as it’s said to and greater amounts of pesticides can be expected to be used as superweeds build up tolerance to them.
Of course, Moore did not make a comment either way about whether exposure to pesticides has any effect on increasing suicidal tendencies on farmers, but in his impulsive reaction to the obvious set-up staged by the interview, he did inadvertently open up a can of bollworms. Scientists are still investigating what types of pesticides might be associated with farmers’ suicides and in what way. The devastating problem cannot be simplified by discovering how much glyphosate or other pesticide is needed to acutely injure a person, as pointed out in an article in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine.
“OPs are not only agents for suicide. They may be part of the causal pathway. Emphasizing OPs solely as agents for suicide shifts responsibility for prevention to the individual, reducing corporate responsibility and limiting policy options available for control.”
While GMO protesters point out the hypocrisy that they claim to see in Dr. Moore’s refusal to drink a cup glyphosate after saying that a human could drink an entire quart of it, there is a bigger story here. Hundreds of thousands of farmers have committed suicide, and the pesticides many of them have used to end their lives might have both biological and economic links to their deaths. Dr. Moore’s cavalier remark invalidated and lampooned these tragedies.