How can one sleep hearing holy-Inquisition-style Sri Lankan discourses? – Reply to Grusha Andrews’ wet dream on glyphosate
I am glad that Grusha Andrews (GA) has given me another opportunity to discuss agrochemicals and the scientific approach to the elucidation of causative factors of ill health and disease. The readers may note Grusha Andrews’ tone of the holy Inquisitor, nay of the Nazi Sturmabteilung in dealing with myself, Dr. Anuruddha Padeniaya, Venerable Athuraliye Ratana, Dr. Channa Jayasumana an others. Did she wake up from her glyphosic dream after reading my article in the Colombo Telegraph entitled “Can A California Jury Decide If A Pesticide Caused Gardener Johnson’s Cancer?”, on 13th August 2018.
I am labeled a “a specimen of a ‘scientist’ who is using scientific jargon to advocate cancer, chronic kidney disease and death to Sri Lankans. I am said to be a descendant of the Nazis who performed trials on captured Jews, the Caucasians who trialled gynaecological instruments on Negro women without anaesthesia or their consents – (sic) – having the immoral audacity to consistently advocate to ‘lesser humans’ what they protect themselves from in their countries of residence”. I am also said to be a “quasi scientist”.
Grusha Andrews is the very opposite of all that. She is the White American or Shining knight who came to defeat the Nazis and save the free world. The female Chevalier-Garter of the Thistle- is also called a Knight. Having whipped herself into a lather of righteous indignation befitting an executioner of the Holy Inquisition about to torch heretics, Grusha Andrews goes for more victims. Calling names may have been the war cry of barbarians.
Dr. Padeniya is declared “a noncompoop-hood”. Lady GA turns to Ven. Athureliye Ratana and present him (without the “Ven.”) as an extremist Buddhist monk defecating in a pit in Lady GA’s mind. She is the very epitome of moderation. She upends this verbal diarrhea claiming that “the idiocy of Padeniya , Jayasumana et al. (sic) does not absolve Chandre Dharmawardana and his team of devil’s advocates from their criminality towards the human beings of Sri Lanka”- she forgot the earthworms!
Indeed, this crusader now moves to reveal what she thinks is the miserable motive of this devil’s team – filthy lucre! They “risk generations of humans to fatten the pockets … the likes of Dharmawardana till a 20 year prospective study is completed?” However, before burning the agents of Satan, Lady GA must right the realm of her fellow Knight, Sir Bradford Hill!
I disagree completely with Venerable Ratana, Dr. Jayasumana, Dr. Padeniaya and others, but have never used such contemptible language against them in my writings. They, like Grusha Andrews, are all part of the frightened public who believe that they are fighting a holy war against rapacious global agricultural giants and their agents. They think that their plate of food, and their glass of water are poisoned by agrochemicals and see the mote of glyphosate residues but not the toxic beam of fossil fuel residues. They hang on fake science or Natha Deiyyo to rationalize their fear. If medieval people believed that evil spirits caused disease, today’s bogey bugs are the agrochemicals said to be present “everywhere”! Scientists who favour any use of agrochemicals are tar-brushed as “paid agents of agro-companies” as in Dr. Jayasumana’s scurrilous book “Wakugadu Hatana”.
This discourse is increasingly fascist, insinuating those who hold opposite opinions to be ‘dirty jews working for big business and against the Fatherland’. Today in Sri Lanka, there are Shining Knights hurling unsubstantiated accusations from every corner. They judge others by their standards. Indeed, how can one sleep, when this type of crude discourse is more and more current, with Jayasumana and Grusha Andrews common bedfellows.
Bradford Hill criteria for identifying causative agents of diseases
When I discuss environmental science, food technology etc. with colleagues and students, ‘what is healthy’, and “what causes what” invariably come up. In physics, the concept of cause is obsolete, but not in epidemiology. The Bardford Hill approach is best for students without much mathematics. Those with a mastery of mathematics can construct a mathematical model, and immediately discover the redundancies and errors in the Bradford Hill criteria [these are exposed by a factor-group analysis, also called an eigenvector analysis – indeed, we need the ‘jargon’ to be precise ]. But GA has failed to see these and reproach my alleged “cunning”.
The so-called biological gradient criterion falls logically under my very first item, i.e., “Strength of association between so called ’cause and effect (disease)’. That is, when the dose of the causative agent increases, the chance of developing the disease, or the strength of the epidemic, increases proportionately.
Thus countries which use a very large amount of agrochemicals and pesticides should show proportionately higher incidence of cancer, kidney and liver diseases if agrochemicals are involved. However, what is seen is a NEGATIVE CORRELATION. I gave the figures for several countries. The figures for New Zealand and USA are 1717 and 137 kg/hectare (2015 World bank data) respectively, while Qatar uses over 7100 kg/hectare. Data for over 150 countries verify this negative correlation. Even within Sri Lanka, the highest use of glyphosate is in the Tea Estates, while the lowest is in the paddy fields. Yet it is the paddy farmers who contract a kidney disease of unknown aetiology (CKDu), and in only certain Dry-Zone villages. In spite of this, the anti-industry lobby jumps to link CKDu with glyphosate use, although what we see is an ANTI-CORRELATION.
A strong correlation with CKDu is found for people who drink stagnant water from household wells, many of which are high in fluoride, and contain hard water (i.e., having magnesium and calcium ions). A correlation does not establish a cause, but an anti-correlation eliminates a proposed cause. It is fluoride and magnesium together that satisfy the criteria for causing CKDu. For more details, see my research paper published in the Journal of Environmental Geochemistry, volume 40, p 705 (2017), and references therein.
All such science is irrelevant to our Crusader. Lady GA draws me over the burning coals claiming I cunningly neglected “temporality” in my list. She elucidates “temporality” for the uninitiated by saying that “the longer a person is exposed to the causative agent the higher the chance of developing the disease”. Contrary to Bardford Hill’s position, I recommend that the first seven tests be applied first, and then, if successful one moves to the time dependent tests (“temporality”) as toxico-kinetic studies are more difficult and expensive. That is why I skip it from my initial list for the evaluation of an aetiology.
After unleashing high dudgeon GA asks a question about the length of the studies taken to establish the safety of Glyphosate formulations. Here is the question, written in Lady GA’s adaptation of the Goebbels invective:
“Quasi scientists of the inhuman calibre of Dharmawardana” who scream for long prospective studies to assert the causality between cancer and Glyphosate before its ban don’t seem to question the ‘800 studies ‘that ‘prove’ glyphosates are safe. Were they prospective cohort studies? How many years were the exposed subjects followed up to arrive at the conclusion that Glyphosphates are safe? Who funded such study? …(sic)…Are we to risk generations of humans to fatten the pockets of the industry giants and the likes of Dharmawardana till a 20 year prospective study is completed?
If Lady GA had simply Googled for long-term studies (chronic toxicity studies) on glyphosate she could have found out the needed answers without fattening pockets or resorting to uncivilized invective. Most advanced countries have their own cohort studies, while US studies are the most comprehensive. I gave the answers in my article in the Colombo Telegraph.
Giant health study of nearly a lakh of farmers for almost a quarter century
I had repeatedly alluded to the long study of 90,000-farmer that lasted nearly 25 years (Bradford Hill’s temporality criterion), and not just 20 years. The study was funded by the Dept. of Health of the US government, and conducted by independent scientists. It was reported in The Journal of the National Cancer Institute, 2017, DOI: 10.1093/jnci/djx233., published on 17th November, 2017. There had also been many earlier studies of shorter durations. Many of these farmers had used glyphosates before the study, and hence their exposure was possibly longer than 25 years. They were exposed to glyphosate containing all the usual adjuvants (i.e., ~5% of wetting agents, used also in shampoos). The health, body fluids and physiology of the farmers were monitored in detail, compared with control samples and the data analyzed mathematically instead of simplistic Bradford Hill criteria (but of course including them more correctly). David Spiegelhalter, a professor at Britain’s Cambridge University, an FRS and an expert in analyzing statistical risks (with no stake in this research), said the results were from a very “large and careful study” and showed no significant relationship between glyphosate use and any type of cancer including non-Hodgkin Lymphoma.
But the California jury incorrectly affirmed that gardener Johnson’s Lymphoma was caused by Glyphosate use! Fools rush in where angels fear to tread.
The main adversaries of Glyphosate are the NGOs and health-food chains that oppose GMO foods. Does Lady GA believe that the 107 Nobel Laureates who wrote to the Washington Post (30th June 2016) blasting “Green” NGOs for their Luddite anti-science position are nothing but paid agents of agrochemical companies, or descendant of the Nazis who performed trials on captured Jews, the Caucasians who trialled gynaecological instruments on Negro women without anaesthesia or their consents ?
The Precautionary Principle
GA’s “chivalry” and humanity have no bounds. She asserts that ‘when scientists, epidemiologists and oncologists want Glyphosphate controls on the precautionary principals of medicine, the likes of Dharmawardana ask for evidence from prospective cohort studies’. Ga wants to act before doing the studies in true Mikado style. Indeed, “first the execution and then the trial”!
The precautionary principle is incorrectly used when you ban a dangerous substance. Societies have evolved sophisticated precautionary principles improving on primitive “ban and banish” (BB) approaches. The modern approach is to “control and constrain” (CC) instead of BB. Even strong narcotics (e.g., opioids) are available to physicians when they need them – they are not banned. All pharmaceuticals are more dangerous than glyphosate, but they are available through trained pharmacists by prescription. Radioactive materials are similarly controlled and constrained. An agrochemical subject to a precautionary principle should NOT be sold in the open market, but made available to farmers only through licensed technicians who apply the optimal amount in a farm or in a school yard. Then, clumsy gardeners like Johnson who admit to getting fully doused with Glyphosate, not once but at least twice, will not access the material.
Banning a coveted substance creates a black market, producing a more dangerous situation. Smuggled glyphosate was easily available in Sri Lanka during the ban. That is why the modern application of the precautionary principle is to use CC instead of BB. Glyphosate should be available to all users and not just Tea and Rubber planters, or else the unjust law will be breached.
Those concerned with precaution cannot ignore more serious dangers perhaps a factor of million stronger. Petroleum and diesel fumes, burnt-garbage emissions, and dust carrying urban toxins are class-1 carcinogens. These are everywhere, in large amounts in the ecosystem and in food. Pharmaceuticals in urine flushed down go into water ways. These toxins are ignored, and we are told that traces of glyphosate, a mere class-II hazard, are present “everywhere”. So what, and indeed, by how much? A French beekeeper has filed a case because there are 16 parts per billion of glyphosate in some samples of honey. Given that the JCPR which is an arm of the WHO allows 1 mg/kg of body weight (i.e., one part per million) per day of glyphosate, the alleged contamination from glyphosate is nearly a million times smaller than accepted chronic toxicity levels. That is, if the “ban-and-banish” style precautionary principle is to be applied, then we should first ban all fossil fuels, paints and industrial solvents, toilets running into sewers etc., before banning a virtually non-existent hazard which is measurable only by the power of modern analytical chemistry. This hazard is grossly exaggerated by “green-food” vendors and fear-mongering NGOs.
Is Glyphosate carcinogenic?
Glyphosate was deemed a probable (but not a definitely established ) class-II carcinogen by the IARC of the WHO only in 2014. The IARC identified a hazard, and not a health risk. Even this is disputed, ironically enough by another arm of the WHO and the FAO named the Joint committee on pesticide residues (JCPR). Their communique of May 16th, 2016 implies that glyphosate is not a chronic agro-toxin. A daily intake of even 1 mg per kg of body weight is deemed safe!
Johnson claims he was not warned of the dangers of gyphosate when the accidental dousing with glyphosate happened. That happened before 2014, prior to its classification in class-II. So how does the California jury conclude that the gardener had been misled? May be the Jurors were like Grusha Andrews in their mindset.
Monsanto documents are alleged to prove that “they knew it to be a carcinogen”. What the Monsanto internal documents prove is that their scientists were considering the possibility that Glyphosate is carcinogenic, and were investigating that. However, no one has concluded that it is truly carcinogenic even today. The Jury erred in linking Johnson’s Lymphoma to glyphosate. It could have justly taken Monsanto and the US regulatory bodies to task for their too cozy relationship.
Is glyphosate bad for the environment?
Many websites run by Organic Food chains etc., claim that glyphosate kills bacteria and earthworms. The internet is full of fake news. If you consult research journals maintained by learned societies or universities, or standard textbooks, a different picture emerges. Glyphosate is broken down by bacteria into amino acid derivatives and phosphates which are food for bacteria. So, most types of bacteria thrive in the presence of small amounts of glyphosate, which are what the soil gets (parts per billion) as the glyphosate is sprayed in dilution as an aerosol. Similarly, earthworms thrive better as glyphosate binds to toxic metals like cadmium and make them insoluble. For instance, regarding the beneficial effect towards earthworms, see e,g,: Zhou et al, Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry, vol. 33, p 2351-2357 (2014). Also, see Lane et al, Peobiologia, vol. 55, pages 325-342 (2012) regarding the effect of glyphosate on the bacterial biomass. In contrast, organic farmers should note that many common substances can be toxic, e.g., used ground coffee if added to garden soils kill earthworms and bacteria as it is acidic and has sufficient caffeine to be toxic to such organisms.
The public is worried about the alleged “persistence” of glyphosate in the environment. In tropical climates glyphosate is broken down in a few days, or gets firmly attached to metallic elements like calcium, aluminium, cadmium etc., and from insoluble substances rendering them harmless. Here a French jury erred gravely in its judgment on the bio-degradability of glyphosate.
In Sri Lanka, the WHO study [Jayatilleke et al. BMC Nephrology, vol. 14, p 160 (2013)] found that 97% of CKDu patients had no significant detectable amounts of glyphosate in their body fluids. The waterways of Sri Lanka have no traces of glyphosate, because, if such glyphosate exists, then there cannot be green algae or green weeds (e.g., Water Hyacinth) in the water. Hence Dr. Ranil Senanayake’s concern about monitoring leakage of glyphosate into rivers is trivially solved by looking at the presence of algae in our water ways.
Grusha Andrews’ list of countries that allegedly “banned” Glyphosate
This list is completely misleading, and reports the scum that collects to the top of the internet, rather than looking at what has been gazetted by these countries. Various politicians in these countries have promised to “ban” glyphosate to appease individuals like Grusha Andrews and Ven. Ratana, but they do nothing. In Canada, Glyphosate is available in most Home & Garden sections of Home Depot, Canadian Tire etc. Only two countries banned glyphosate outright, viz., Sri Lanka and San Salvador. Both have now reversed the ban and glyphosate is available for agricultural use. It is available in over 190 countries the world over, for use in agriculture, golf courses, school grounds, city parks, railway tracks etc.. These include the countries listed by GA where some of them seek to introduce a CC-type precautionary principle rather than a ban. A more detailed account of such fake news is given in my article (click here).
Grusha Andrews’ Libelous charge
The author Gursha Andrews has accused the present writer of receiving money from agrochemical multinationals and “fattening pockets”. This is a very serious libelous and unsubstantiated charge that can be taken up through the proper channels to seek justice, unless the author withdraws them forthwith and clarifies her position, or provides evidence to substantiate her claims.