Glyphosate linked to epidemic of kidney failure, but regulation obstructed

The Swiss-based International Journals of Environmental Research and Public Health published a research paper pointing to glyphosate may be behind an epidemic of mystery kidney disease killing over 20,000 in Sri Lanka alone.

For more than two years, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists has been monitoring a previously rare form of kidney disease now devastating agricultural workers in Central America, Sri Lanka and India.

Scientists suspect it is caused by exposure to toxins such as pesticides and exacerbated by dehydration while working the plantations in heat.

On March 12, a Sri Lankan minister announced that President Rajapaksa, after receiving a scientific report that “revealed that kidney disease was mainly caused by glyphosate,” was banning the herbicide. The decision followed publication of a scientific paper that attributed widespread kidney failure to the herbicide.

Since the announcement of the intended ban, Monsanto along with Sri Lanka’ Pesticide Technical Committee, and local agrochemical industry groups have objected. The ban was put on hold.

Curiously, in the northern province of Sri Lanka, glyphosate was earlier banned to prevent these chemicals being used to make bombs during the civil war. There, the disease is not present.

Sri Lanka is not the first country to focus on glyphosate for its suspected role in chronic kidney disease. El Salvador’s Legislative Assembly approved a ban on 53 agrichemicals including glyphosate last year, but – midst pressure from the industry activists – it was not signed into law by the country’s president.

Glyphosate bonds with toxic heavy metals in the environment such as cadmium and arsenic, forming stable compounds that are consumed in food and water and do not break down until reaching victims’ kidneys. A study in Sri Lanka by the World Health Organization detected both cadmium and glyphosate, as well as other pesticides and heavy metals, in the environment of affected areas, and in the farmers urine.

It is worth noting that glyphosate was initially patented as a chelating agent, a substance useful in industrial processes for its ability to form strong chemical bonds with metals.

In Brazil, a prosecutor recently requested a ban on glyphosate and other agrichemicals because he said the government had not fully reviewed their health and safety effects. The request was unrelated to chronic kidney disease among agricultural workers, which has not been reported in Brazil. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said it is now working on the herbicide’s registration review process, but has “not seen any pattern of kidney health effects” in scientific literature.

However, data from the USDA, National Cancer Institutes, Centers for Disease Control, have recently surfaced, depicting at steep rise in the rates of kidney disease in the US from the time of the introduction of glyphosate and GM food (engineered primarily to withstand massive application of the herbicide). The death rates more than doubled over the past 30 years.

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