Nutritionist Michelle McGuire responds to attacks in wake of ‘glyphosate not in milk’ study

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GLP Editor’s Note: As reporter Keith Kloor noted in his recent Nature story on the targeting of biotech professors and science advocates, U.S. Right to Know has issued yet a new Freedom of Information Act demand to Washington State University for the email records of human nutrition scientist Michelle McGuire. The FOIA has resulted in 12,000 documents (not pages) needing to now be reviewed by university lawyers and McGuire.

An expert in human milk and lactation research, McGuire publicly discussed her yet unpublished findings that glyphosate, the target of anti-GMO groups who claim it is dangerously toxic, does not show up in mother’s milk – or at least is below the detection limit of a newly-developed very sensitive assay protocol. The source of the original claim is a non-peer-reviewed “study” organized and overseen by the virulently anti-GMO advocacy group Moms Across American in cooperation with Sustainable Pulse, a European-based anti-GMO website led by Henry Rowlands, who acts as a web front for websites promoting Gilles-Éric Séralini, Judy Carman and other activist scientists.

MAMs paid to have 10 women’s breast milk tested for glyphosate, the United States’ most widely used weed-killer. According to MAM founder and director Zen Honeycutt, the testing was not intended to be a scientific study, but rather a small, pilot effort undertaken in hopes of prompting further research. Nonetheless, results from the non-scientific “study” has been ballyhooed across the web by biotech opponents and even picked up by some reporters in the mainstream press, such as Carey Gillam at Reuters, who works closely with anti-GMO activists in disseminating fringe science.

“This is a poison and it’s in our food. And now they’ve found it in breast milk,” Gillam quoted Honeycutt as saying. “Numerous studies show serious harm to mammals. We want this toxic treadmill of chemical cocktails in our food to stop.” Gilliam included no quotes from mainstream scientists, writing only, “Monsanto and other chemical makers say glyphosate has been extensively studied and has a long track record of safe and effective use.” In fact, the safety claims for Monsanto have been made by every major regulatory agency in the world, including in Europe, Asia and North America, and including the US Environmental  Protection Agency, which rates the herbicide as a Category E chemical: “evidence of non-carcinogenicity for humans.”

imageFurther research on the specific glyphosate-breast milk claim is now coming out, and the science does not sit well with GMO opponents. In July, speaking at a conference, Washington State University associate professor Michelle McGuire, revealed the primary results of her study which she and her coauthors are preparing for submission to a peer-reviewed journal. In a nutshell, McGuire and her colleagues at the University of Idaho a newly collected set of human milk analyzed twice, once in the Monsanto Company laboratories and once by Covance Laboratories, Inc.: neither laboratory found detectable levels of glyphosate in any of the 41 women’s milk samples collected. McGuire and her colleagues concluded, “Our study provides strong evidence that glyphosate is not in human milk. It appears that Moms Across America flat out got it wrong.”

Anti-GMO websites went into immediate damage control and attack mode, led by SustainablePulse and Moms Against America, claiming, surprise!, that McGuire was a paid flunky of Monsanto. Within days, USTRK issued a FOIA targeting McGuire, which made its way into the Nature story. McGuire is now one of more than 40 scientists and science literacy professionals, including the GLP’s Jon Entine, who have been targeted and are beleaguered by the ongoing onslaught of ad hominem attacks.

Some people who commented on the Nature story site attacked the WSU professor’s integrity. McGuire responded to the attacks and further clarified her research and her relationship with Monsanto. With the professor’s agreement, McGuire’s post is reproduced in its entirety here:

Thank you all for your interest in our study and my current predicament. Let me try to clarify things a bit. Yes, we did work with Monsanto on our project. But in fact, we reached out to them when we first became interested in whether glyphosate was really in human milk; after all, they are the experts in terms of analytical methods in this regard.

Thank you all for your interest in our study and my current predicament. Let me try to clarify things a bit. Yes, we did work with Monsanto on our project. But in fact, we reached out to them when we first became interested in whether glyphosate was really in human milk; after all, they are the experts in terms of analytical methods in this regard.

It turned out that they hadn’t ever analyzed human milk for glyphosate and AMPA – so this was a great opportunity to combine our expertise (human milk composition) with their strengths (glyphosate chemistry). I was impressed from the start at how professional and truly caring all of the folks at Monsanto were (seriously, they’re good people). They honestly wanted to know if glyphosate was in human milk!

The folks we worked with at Monsanto were always courteous, thoughtful, and very interested in doing the study right. To help manage potential conflicts of interest, the human milk samples we collected were analyzed both in the Monsanto laboratories (where their chemists had just spent months validating and optimizing very sensitive and specific GC/MS-MS methods for detecting and quantifying glyphosate and AMPA in human milk) and then INDEPENDENTLY in Covance Laboratories, Inc. (Madison, WI). Neither group could detect glyphosate or AMPA in a single sample.

As is commonly done in academic science, we presented our findings at a FASEB Summer Research Conference a couple of weeks ago in Big Sky, Montana. And although I had expected significant interest in our findings, I was not prepared for the mud-slinging that began almost immediately after our presentation. Indeed, I was pretty naïve to this entire, horrible world that I have now stepped into, and I’m pretty sure that this is what Keith Kloor was trying to convey when he said “McGuire is not sure why the group is seeking her records.”

From what I have learned over the past couple of weeks, I am now not at all surprised that the US Right to Know group has “FOIAed” my correspondences with Monsanto and a laundry list of companies and nonprofits. USRTK is clearly on a witch hunt to find anything that they might be able to spin/twist/embellish to suggest that I am an unethical researcher. I can also tell you that I have been really, really disheartened by the personal attacks from groups like Moms Across America (who disseminated the first “report” of glyphosate in human milk via the internet). I had hoped that they would be interested in why we got different results. But after allowing me to have a very civil and educational discourse with its readership for about 24 hours – Moms Across America blocked me from their Facebook page and then deleted all of the clarifications that I posted.

Unfortunately, the curators of the Moms Across America page along with those of the Sustainable Pulse page (by the way, Sustainable Pulse funded the Moms Across America glyphosate study) have attacked my credibility and integrity in ways that I wouldn’t have imagined when I set out a year or so ago to replicate their glyphosate/breastmilk study. They appear to not want a serious discussion as to why our results might be different (e.g., different populations, milk collection/storage conditions, very different analytical methods, etc.). They are not interested in rigorously-conducted science; all they appear to want to do is discredit me.

In the meantime, I am working with my collaborators at University of Idaho and Monsanto Company to submit our methods and clinical papers for peer-review. I have encouraged Moms Across America and Sustainable Pulse to do the same, but their response is always something like “Ours wasn’t a scientific study.”

You can’t have it both ways folks. Please understand that…at least for the VAST majority of hard-working scientists trying to do our jobs in academia…the source of funding has never and will never impact the results we find and the conclusions we make. Suggesting otherwise is extremely uninformed and very damaging.

Michelle McGuire received her BS in biology from the University of Illinois (1986), an MS in nutritional sciences from the University of Illinois (1988), and a PhD in human nutrition from Cornell University (1994). Her research focuses primarily on understanding better how maternal dietary intake and nutritional status influence breast health, milk composition, and duration of postpartum amenorrhea. Follow her on Twitter @McGuireSmcguire

  • Warren Lauzon

    It is time to start using these same McCarthy-like tactics on the anti-science crowd, along with the FOIA’s. Of course one problem with the FOIA tactic is that so few of them have any actual scientific or university training that it might be hard to find much.

    • Smoking Hamster

      Can’t FOIA nonprofits. That is the biggest problem.

      • Warren Lauzon

        Yup, as I noted in another post, could only FOIA government entities.

        • Kevin Folta

          Plus, if it is wrong, it is wrong. Even though it would sure feel good, it is a waste of taxpayer funds and university legal time. Stand by those principles.

          • RJB

            Kevin, you are one class act. Keep up the good work!!

      • Warren Lauzon

        Yup, as I noted in another post, could only FOIA government entities.

      • SageThinker

        We can *ask* non-profits to open up to the same level of transparency, and hope they comply, or else show the moral double standard. Why not? I support transparency all around.

    • Smoking Hamster

      Can’t FOIA nonprofits. That is the biggest problem.

  • Larkin Curtis Hannah

    This is a shame, but is anybody surprised by the tactics of these groups? Hopefully this encourages more serious scientists to jump into this battle.

    • Shelley McGuire

      Agreed. Thank you!

    • Shelley McGuire

      Agreed. Thank you!

  • Larkin Curtis Hannah

    This is a shame, but is anybody surprised by the tactics of these groups? Hopefully this encourages more serious scientists to jump into this battle.

  • Amelia Jordan

    This new appalling trend to FOIA public scientists in an effort to slander them with out of context communications is so dangerous and scary. The sheer anger and dedication to the anti-GMO agenda by these groups is frightening.

    • mem_somerville

      It’s odd too–when it happens to climate scientists, so many people are covering it. Why not now?

      Just happened to notice, though, that pre-publication emails are not necessarily eligible for FOIA: http://arstechnica.com/science/2015/03/arizona-court-protects-climate-scientists-e-mails-from-think-tank/

      This is the second case where a state court has ruled that pre-publication research—in this case, “prepublication critical analysis, unpublished data, analysis, research, results, drafts, and commentary”—was not a valid subject for freedom-of-information disclosures.

      Since their work isn’t published yet, there should be a massive pushback on this from Shelley’s legal team.

      • Amelia Jordan

        Fantastic. I’m glad that these organizations can’t get their hands on the emails. Enough with the bullying!

      • Amelia Jordan

        Fantastic. I’m glad that these organizations can’t get their hands on the emails. Enough with the bullying!

      • Shelley McGuire

        Thank you! I will share this with the WSU Attorney General’s Office. Appreciate everyone’s kind support.

        • paul knoepfler

          Dr. McGuire, I may have missed this, but how could they FOIA you if you are not a federal employee? Is the “FOIA’d” term here meaning based on a Washington State sunshine kind of law like those in Florida? Or is there indeed a basis for use of the federal law in this case?

          • Shelley McGuire

            It is my understanding that all public employees are subject to FOIA. I am an employee of Washington State University, which is a public institution.

          • paul knoepfler

            From what I’ve read it looks like this is strictly based on a Washington State law, not the federal FOIA.

        • paul knoepfler

          Dr. McGuire, I may have missed this, but how could they FOIA you if you are not a federal employee? Is the “FOIA’d” term here meaning based on a Washington State sunshine kind of law like those in Florida? Or is there indeed a basis for use of the federal law in this case?

      • Shelley McGuire

        Thank you! I will share this with the WSU Attorney General’s Office. Appreciate everyone’s kind support.

      • First Officer

        Good sleuthing, Mem!

        • Eric Bjerregaard

          As she always does.

      • SageThinker

        Probably less media covering this because it’s a less notable story altogether, in the context of what gets news coverage. Climate change has been a more notable story than controversy around GMOs, in my estimation. Or maybe it’s because ClimateGate was a right-wing operation fueled by interests of large industry, whereas this is more the opposite.

        • Captain Moonlight

          Fueled by multi-billion dollar Big Org and environmental groups with hundreds of millions of dollars in campaign funds. I suspect the amount of money spent by these groups in opposition to biotech would roughly approximate climate change denial funding.

          • SageThinker

            You’re not correct in that. Got any documentation on the funding stream you suggest? It’s about the opposite as far as i know.

          • Mark Walton

            Some data on the organic industry and their efforts to discredit GM technology: sales of organic products in the U.S. were projected to be about $35 million in 2014. The “Just Label It” campaign is funded and run by the organic industry-led Organic Voices Action Fund, a 501c4 lobby group led by Stonyfield Organic’s CEO Gary Hirshberg. Representatives from other organic companies and the Organic Trade Association are associated with the Fund. You can find a report on the organic industry and their efforts to discredit GM technology here: http://academicsreview.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/AR_Organic-Marketing-Report_Print.pdf. If you do any searching for Gary Hirshberg you will readily find evidence of his efforts to discredit GM technology.

          • SageThinker

            The latest thing i find by Gary Hirshberg is this essay published by Huffington Post. It doesn’t sound too damning of the GM industry. It sounds fairly balanced, to me, for a person of organic persuasion. So, he’s a rich guy who has a passion for organic foods and wants foods labeled so he can choose what he eats. He is careful to say that it has not been shown that GM foods are harmful to health. His language appears very careful.
            http://www.huffingtonpost.com/gary-hirshberg/mandatory-gmo-labeling–i_b_7841144.html

          • Mark Walton

            You asked for evidence of the organic industry’s efforts to discredit genetically modified crops and as the saying goes, “follow the money.” Hirshberg is not just “a rich guy who has a passion for organic foods” he is the chairman of a major organic brand that is owned by a global food company. It is obviously in his best interest for consumers to believe that organic is somehow better than conventional and much better than “GMO.” Hirsberg may be media saavy but that doesn’t mean the organic industry isn’t well healed or using its resources to portray GM crops as unsafe and unsustainable.

          • SageThinker

            From the link you provided: <>

            So, there are people who want to eat food that has little or no pesticides on it, and who wish to avoid GMOs. Some people run companies to provide such foods. They may have a vested interest in promoting the notion that GMOs are not fully proven to be safe.

            There is a whole industry that is vested into GMOs and pesticides as modes of production. They have a vested interest in promoting the notion that GMOs and pesticides are completely safe.

            Anyway, the folks i know who are promoting labeling are working on a shoestring stipend, if any income at all, and showing up at country fairs and farmer’s markets and talking with people. They’re regular people who are in it for the ideals of it, not a money trail. They’re barely surviving. The Northeast Organic Farming Association is also a big promoter of labeling, and they run from a slanted old farmhouse in central Massachusetts and have a budget that would rival a high school soccer team.

          • SageThinker

            From the link you provided: <>

            So, there are people who want to eat food that has little or no pesticides on it, and who wish to avoid GMOs. Some people run companies to provide such foods. They may have a vested interest in promoting the notion that GMOs are not fully proven to be safe.

            There is a whole industry that is vested into GMOs and pesticides as modes of production. They have a vested interest in promoting the notion that GMOs and pesticides are completely safe.

            Anyway, the folks i know who are promoting labeling are working on a shoestring stipend, if any income at all, and showing up at country fairs and farmer’s markets and talking with people. They’re regular people who are in it for the ideals of it, not a money trail. They’re barely surviving. The Northeast Organic Farming Association is also a big promoter of labeling, and they run from a slanted old farmhouse in central Massachusetts and have a budget that would rival a high school soccer team.

          • Mark Walton

            You asked for evidence of the organic industry’s efforts to discredit genetically modified crops and as the saying goes, “follow the money.” Hirshberg is not just “a rich guy who has a passion for organic foods” he is the chairman of a major organic brand that is owned by a global food company. It is obviously in his best interest for consumers to believe that organic is somehow better than conventional and much better than “GMO.” Hirsberg may be media saavy but that doesn’t mean the organic industry isn’t well healed or using its resources to portray GM crops as unsafe and unsustainable.

    • mem_somerville

      It’s odd too–when it happens to climate scientists, so many people are covering it. Why not now?

      Just happened to notice, though, that pre-publication emails are not necessarily eligible for FOIA: http://arstechnica.com/science/2015/03/arizona-court-protects-climate-scientists-e-mails-from-think-tank/

      This is the second case where a state court has ruled that pre-publication research—in this case, “prepublication critical analysis, unpublished data, analysis, research, results, drafts, and commentary”—was not a valid subject for freedom-of-information disclosures.

      Since their work isn’t published yet, there should be a massive pushback on this from Shelley’s legal team.

    • Shelley McGuire

      Frightening is a good descriptor. Thank you!

      • Amelia Jordan

        You have my full support! No one should be bullied.

        • Shelley McGuire

          Thank you!

    • Shelley McGuire

      Frightening is a good descriptor. Thank you!

  • Amelia Jordan

    This new appalling trend to FOIA public scientists in an effort to slander them with out of context communications is so dangerous and scary. The sheer anger and dedication to the anti-GMO agenda by these groups is frightening.

  • DavidSerlin

    Unfortunately this is part and parcel of the way certain political groups maintain their narrative. Never let the facts get in the way of your cause and should anyone try, don’t argue facts, instead attempt to smear motivation and character then try to destroy their ability to earn an income by petitioning to their work place to have them fired.

  • SageThinker

    What is the nature of these “attacks”? I think that is probably too strong a verb. I bet it consists of people supposing that McGuire is a hired gun for Monsanto, which is not justified based on what i know, but that’s probably to be expected from some quarters, but is this an “attack”? Anyway, transparency is a good thing and that’s what FOIA is designed for — to open up closed matters to scrutiny. So a few extreme people will try to use it to slander someone unjustifiably — same happened with ClimateGate, too, right? Slander of scientists from some right-wing climate change denial quarters. So was that wrong to do? Are FOIA requests of this sort always wrong? Or is it just that a fringe will always overstate matters, and we can ignore them?

    • Shelley McGuire

      I’m not sure I agree that “attack” is too-strong a word. My integrity has been publicly and quite viciously questioned without any evidence to support any wrong-doing. Of course, there will never be valid evidence of this, because I have done nothing wrong. I’ve been publicly accused of either making up data or misinterpreting results. I consider these substantial attacks on my professionalism and (worse) character.

      • SageThinker

        I’m sorry this has been done, Shelley. I hope you can disregard any attacks to your character and stand by your work. I haven’t seen any questioning of your integrity, but i guess i don’t read the websites or lists where attacking or slandering language is found. I support transparency in terms of funding and collaboration, but hopefully people can understand that working in collaboration with Monsanto does not necessarily alter your results. I can understand people having some skepticism, but that is healthy about everything, and in the end, more tests can simply be done to resolve discrepancies in results. Science is about peer review and replication of experiments whenever there is doubt, after all. Thank you for responding to my comment. It’s not my place to give advice, but my best advice is to not listen to the more extreme voices, and try not to let it get to you. I’m sure that’s far more easy to say than to do, and i’m sorry you’re getting this level of flak. I am a person who has been concerned about glyphosate in the human diet, but i would never wish personal attacks upon anyone.

        • Shelley McGuire

          Couldn’t agree more with you!

  • SageThinker

    When i read the article linked to the word “results” i find a text that seems to be written as a press release for Monsanto.

    I am puzzled by the use of the phrase “glyphosate does not accumulate in mother’s breast milk” for wouldn’t it be a flux and not an accumulation if glyphosate passed to the milk and passed out from the woman?

    Anyway, it’s notable that glyphosate was in the urine of some of the women. I wait for the paper to see the levels found.

    I wonder what the lower limit of the assay was, as well. There’s a difference between “none” and nanograms. I’ve seen reference to HPLC tests for glyphosate with a lower limit of 0.01 ppm, which is 10 ug per kg. This would not be an adequate lower limit. Nanograms of glyphosate may not be a cause for concern but would be more than “none”.

    Given the results of the Brewster 1991 study (see image) on the fate of glyphosate in mammalian bodies on ingestion, it seems likely that glyphosate does distribute widely in the human body. I do think we need more research. We do need a larger sample size, and we need to study other points of the human body, as well, especially the content of the gut. That is a very easy assay, and should be done, as we’re talking about public safety and public knowledge.

    One should note that the article says that Covance Labs have no affiliation with Monsanto, but it seems to be a go-to lab for Monsanto. They have a long association.

    • Good4U

      Covance is a GLP compliant contract laboratory. They are not “affiliated” with Monsanto. They have many clients for whom they do testing of many substances. Covance has been inspected for GLP compliance many times, and has developed a stellar reputation for scientific credibility. You should understand the regulatory field better before making allegations about “affiliation”.

      • SageThinker

        They’ve done a lot of business with Monsanto in the past. They’re one of their go-to labs, i think. They’re not owned by Monsanto of structurally related in an ownership sense, so i guess that technically, you’re correct by the primary definition of “affiliated”. I’ll change the word to “associated”.

  • Nigel

    It appears these “MAMS” (Why are they not referred to as MAAs?) are behaving like nasty little babies!

  • From above–“McGuire and her colleagues concluded, “Our study provides strong evidence that glyphosate is not in human milk. It appears that Moms Across America flat out got it wrong.”

    Come on, 1 study of 41 woman from 2 states is an absolutely insufficient basis on which to conclude “that glyphosate is not in human milk”, nor does this one study strongly suggest that conclusion. That is a vast misattribution of significance.

    • Here is where your science ignorance comes into play. There has never been any reputable studies linking glyphosate to breast milk, ever, and most importantly there is no known biological mechanism to explain why it should. Certainly there could be more studies, but the statement you criticize is absolutely worded carefully and scientifically. As of today, there is no plausible biological reason to expect glyphosate shows up in human milk and the one state of the art study to date confirms mainstream science. Get back to me when a real scientist, instead of an Internet troll, challenges its significance with a contrary, Good Lab Practices study.

      • “…The statement you criticize is absolutely worded carefully and scientifically.” Oh really. You think 1 study, of 41 people, “provides strong evidence that glyphosate is not in human milk.” On the basis of briefly studying 41 people, you propose to draw a conclusion about millions of lactating women, spread around the whole world, in innumerable circumstances and situations? The senselessness of what you are calling “scientific” is astonishing. I would like to see you justify it.

        • SageThinker

          I would say that both are true. Neither the Moms Across America survey, nor the McGuire paper (yet) are conclusive. We do not know about false positives from the Microbe Inotech assay, nor do we have the paper from the McGuire lab yet, to know more about their assay. Let’s wait for that paper, and perhaps hope for further research, if it does not sit well with critics.

          • It is absolutely false that McGuires study “provides strong evidence that glyphosate is not in human milk.” Just wild. Forty-One people were studied!

      • SageThinker

        Brewster’s 1991 study of Sprague-Dawley rats given a single oral dose of glyphosate showed its presence in testicular fat, so i see no reason why it would not be in mammary fat. It seems to distribute systemically. Most passes through the gut, but a fair percent was shown to make it into the general body and finds its way into many tissues.

      • Peter Olins

        Not sure I follow your reasoning, Jon. Glyphosate is very water-soluble, and distributes widely in different animal tissues and urine. A priori, I see no reason why traces couldn’t show up in milk, but this would, of course, depend on the levels ingested by the mother, and the sensitivity of the assay. Even if traces were detected, so what? Blood, urine and milk contain thousands of compounds, including those we are exposed to in the environment.

        The only data on milk that I am aware of comes from cows fed high levels of glyphosate: none was detected in milk.

        • Peter, if your point that micro trace levels of glyphosate could show up in milk, of course you are right, but as you note that’s a pedantic observation (there are traces of almost everything in the world detectable in human fluids). I was making the point that there is no evidence that biologically meaningful levels of glyphosate are present in breast milk.

          • Peter Olins

            While I generally, dislike the phrase “absence of evidence is not evidence of absence”, in this case it think it is valid. I cannot find any published study of human milk, so since Dr. McGuire’s data are unpublished, I think the jury is still out. There is a fine dividing line between scientific rigor and pedantry, but I think it’s important for your website to err on the side of caution, since this can set it aside from the numerous pseudo-science/fringe/activist sites that peddle distorted ideas about pesticides.

            Glyphosate is very soluble in water, and has shown up in all animal tissues tested that I am aware of. It’s also found in urine, which is a major route of excretion of the compound. It’s therefore a little puzzling why it hasn’t been found in cows’ milk, even when high doses of glyphosate were administered (e.g. 400 ppm in feed). I therefore disagree with your earlier conclusion that ”…there is no known biological mechanism to explain why it should.”

            Human exposure to glyphosate is obviously much lower, and only traces have been detected, as reviewed by the German regulatory agency responsible for glyphosate: http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00003-014-0927-3/fulltext.html (As an aside, I was surprised that the authors even included claims from MAA, despite that these claims were not scientifically validated).

            My point is that even if minute traces of glyphosate are detected in human milk some day—when even more sensitive assays are developed— this would not be unexpected. Likewise, minute traces could plausibly show up in infant formula, unless specific steps were taken to avoid this. The Environmental Working Group, with it’s pseudoscientific “Dirty Dozen” concept, is an excellent example of a group that highlights whether something is DETECTABLE, rather than whether the minute traces are biologically RELEVANT. Sites like GLP can offer valuable arguments and evidence to provide context for such extreme claims.

            I look forward to reading Dr. McGuire’s paper, and hope that it also includes an analysis of the urine from the same human subjects whose milk was tested, since this would be the baseline for comparison.

          • First Officer

            From my understanding, the assays used for urine and water are not valid for milks. Dr. McGuire makes the claim they developed a new highly sensitive assay for human milk. However, this was not available to the German breast milk study, claiming levels in the sub ng/ml range.

            You are probably right that ever more sensitive tests will become available. We’re probably going to find single molecules one day. I wouldn’t be surprised if some minute amounts occur randomly in the environment as it’s not a very complicated molecule.

          • First Officer

            From my understanding, the assays used for urine and water are not valid for milks. Dr. McGuire makes the claim they developed a new highly sensitive assay for human milk. However, this was not available to the German breast milk study, claiming levels in the sub ng/ml range.

            You are probably right that ever more sensitive tests will become available. We’re probably going to find single molecules one day. I wouldn’t be surprised if some minute amounts occur randomly in the environment as it’s not a very complicated molecule.

          • Peter, good guidance. The distinctions you make are nuanced and valuable. I hope we meet the standards that you expect from us going forward.

          • Peter, good guidance. The distinctions you make are nuanced and valuable. I hope we meet the standards that you expect from us going forward.

          • Those horrendous people–talking about a Dirty Dozen! I mean, chemical pollution is absolutely nothing to worry about. Everyone knows that there is only one kind of legitimate, important, true communication–and that is scientific communication. Everything else is just wasting our precious time.

          • SageThinker

            Peter, i appreciate your comment.

            I wonder, do you have a source for saying that glyphosate has not been found in cow’s milk, or is it simply that no study has been done on this yet?

            This seems like an obvious assay to be done stat.

            I should note that in a cursory survey of 20 minutes on Google Scholar, i found no research that assayed for glyphosate presence in cow’s milk.

          • SageThinker

            Peter, i appreciate your comment.

            I wonder, do you have a source for saying that glyphosate has not been found in cow’s milk, or is it simply that no study has been done on this yet?

            This seems like an obvious assay to be done stat.

            I should note that in a cursory survey of 20 minutes on Google Scholar, i found no research that assayed for glyphosate presence in cow’s milk.

          • Thank you for clarifying that there are likely mechanisms by which glyphosate could appear in breast milk.

          • Thank you for clarifying that there are likely mechanisms by which glyphosate could appear in breast milk.

          • Peter Olins

            While I generally, dislike the phrase “absence of evidence is not evidence of absence”, in this case it think it is valid. I cannot find any published study of human milk, so since Dr. McGuire’s data are unpublished, I think the jury is still out. There is a fine dividing line between scientific rigor and pedantry, but I think it’s important for your website to err on the side of caution, since this can set it aside from the numerous pseudo-science/fringe/activist sites that peddle distorted ideas about pesticides.

            Glyphosate is very soluble in water, and has shown up in all animal tissues tested that I am aware of. It’s also found in urine, which is a major route of excretion of the compound. It’s therefore a little puzzling why it hasn’t been found in cows’ milk, even when high doses of glyphosate were administered (e.g. 400 ppm in feed). I therefore disagree with your earlier conclusion that ”…there is no known biological mechanism to explain why it should.”

            Human exposure to glyphosate is obviously much lower, and only traces have been detected, as reviewed by the German regulatory agency responsible for glyphosate: http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00003-014-0927-3/fulltext.html (As an aside, I was surprised that the authors even included claims from MAA, despite that these claims were not scientifically validated).

            My point is that even if minute traces of glyphosate are detected in human milk some day—when even more sensitive assays are developed— this would not be unexpected. Likewise, minute traces could plausibly show up in infant formula, unless specific steps were taken to avoid this. The Environmental Working Group, with it’s pseudoscientific “Dirty Dozen” concept, is an excellent example of a group that highlights whether something is DETECTABLE, rather than whether the minute traces are biologically RELEVANT. Sites like GLP can offer valuable arguments and evidence to provide context for such extreme claims.

            I look forward to reading Dr. McGuire’s paper, and hope that it also includes an analysis of the urine from the same human subjects whose milk was tested, since this would be the baseline for comparison.

      • Great–attack with a vengeance. But you’re wrong. “Our study provides strong evidence that glyphosate is not in human milk.” Ludicrous statement. Ludicrous.

      • To think that one must conduct a proper study to dispute the idea that “Our study provides strong evidence that glyphosate is not in human milk.” is an abysmal lack of insight. Without insight, science is meaningless–and critics of ideas fail to make sense. But you are free to do what you like–go for it.

      • “Ad hominem attacks.” Why would people stoop so low?

      • “Ad hominem attacks.” Why would people stoop so low?

      • If anyone thinks briefly studying 41 women in 2 U.S. states “provides strong evidence that glyphosate is not in human milk”, they should justify it, or admit that comments to that effect are mistaken–and that calling people trolls does little to help.

  • Peter Olins

    What’s the issue here? The use of FOIA to harass scientists is despicable, and I have great sympathy for Dr. McGuire, but I can’t think of any reason why a trace of ANY pesticide shouldn’t show up in milk, depending on the sensitivity of the assay. This obviously depends on levels of exposure, but since we already know that G is highly water-soluble, it’s widely distributed in tissues, and it’s excreted in urine, why WOULDN’T traces show up in milk? So what if it’s in milk: trace levels are found widely in foods.

    Of course, I find the MAA claims of widespread detectable levels of glyphosate scurrilous, because these claims were advocacy dressed up as science. No details were revealed showing if they had actually validated their assay, ruling out false positives. The company who did the assays, Microbe Inotech, is now offering reduced pricing on glyphosate assays for all MAA members, and it seems likely to me that there will be a steady stream of fearful mothers willing to to be tested.

    • Shelley McGuire

      Hi all, we have submitted our glyphosate methods paper to a peer-reviewed publication and are now just waiting to hear back about the reviews. As you probably know this process of getting a paper in print can take quite a few months – up to a year if the first journal (or 2) don’ think the topic will be of sufficient interest to its readership. I’m hoping that when the methods are published, some company will pick them up and use them in a more public way. It’s an LC/MS-MS assay, so not just any lab will be able to use it. The methods aren’t patented or anything, so they will be available for anyone to validate in their own lab. We have been urging Microbe Inotech to publish their validation data as well. Without that important step, no one can actually tell if the assay has been optimized for human milk, a matrix that is always difficult and results in many false positives if you’re not careful. If glyphosate can be accurately quantified in milk using an ELISA, that would probably be a lot cheaper than using LC/MS-MS. But right now we have no way of knowing that the ELISA is valid other than Microtab Inotech saying it is.

      • Shelley McGuire

        Our methods have definitely been validated and optimized to human milk.

      • Peter Olins

        Sorry, ‘Mothers Across America’—an activist group—unencumbered by the thought process.

        • J. Randall Stewart

          It is evident that it is super-easy to spread fear, paranoia, and rumor, but it takes some real effort and time to prove facts within a certain confidence (probability) level.

  • Shelley McGuire

    You are correct. My laboratory doesn’t use LC/MS-MS methods, which would be the gold standard in this case. So Monsanto chemists optimized the methods and then ran the samples. They then transferred the specifics of the method to Microtab Inotech who revalidated them in their hands. They then ran a 2nd set of samples that we sent directly to them. Their results were communicated directly back to us.

  • Shelley McGuire

    Methods paper is now in peer review, and we hope to get the clinical paper submitted in the next week or so. Will probably take several months to hear back, and then additional time to respond to reviewers’ comments. This part of scientific method can take quite a while. But as soon as each paper is published, I will let people know. I’m looking forward to that time.

    • gmoeater

      Shelley, this guy is not only illiterate, he is a rabid anti-vaxxer and anti-GMO. For this “pathologist” to “review” your methods paper would be like me asking Donald Trump to review my classwork on ethics and integrity. Click on his name and see his posts. He shouldn’t be selected to read your review paper.

      A sample from this “pathologist” on gmos:
      pathologist FoodSkeptic 12 hours ago
      GMO is all glyphosate ready…. glyphosate was originally used in industry to descale, ie remove mineral deposits from inside big boilers, etc. It removes scale… and they found that this water, when chucked on plants, killed them, the plants could not absorb nutrients (thats how descaling chemicals work, they absorb all the minerals)…. so it is well known GMO, has little nutritional value. It has as much as 80% less minerals (that we need to live), in it……. as for tastings? you gotta be kidding me? Havent you ever tasted heirloom veggies? Anyone reading this, give yourself a treat, go and find some real heirloom tomatoes, choose these from your organic grower, or local farmer……………….. you wont ever eat those tomatoes that bounce without bruising, ever again. If you reckon the taste test is the same, you never eaten real food,e ver, which wouldnt surprise me in USA.
      Nutritional assays? Quote me one FoodSkeptic, that says they have the same nutrition…. You cant because they all show such a lack of nutrition in GMO…………….. how the hell can a plant absorb nutrients properly if glyphosate takes all the nutrients out? Thats why glypho kill splants?

      • Shelley McGuire

        Interesting. As you probably know, the authors of a scientific paper do not choose who reviews the paper. That’s up to the associate editors.

        • gmoeater

          OK …. thanks for that clarification. It’s just …. odd that this guy would think himself qualified to “peer” review your paper, with his strong anti-vaxx, anti-gmo perspectives. And I hope your does get good strong credible peer reviews – you’ve made important points! Thank you.

  • Shelley McGuire

    Remember please that I was just doing what many scientists do when they have new data – I presented it in brief form at a scientific conference. It’s been an interesting month since that time. I was expecting the MAA group to question our results, but there’s no way that I could have anticipated the full backlash including FOIA. Hopefully we will get the papers in peer-reviewed journals by end of year if we are lucky. Working on it between teaching and grant writing right now.

    • Filip Collet

      I have a creeping suspicion you don’t really know how the process of publishing in a peer-reviewed journal goes. It can be prolonged and arduous with lots of back-and-forth between author, publisher and peer reviewers.

  • gmoeater

    “Pathologist,” I clicked on your name and read a few of your previous posts. As you clearly show in your posts that you a rabid anti-vaxxer and rabid anti-gmo blogger, what are your qualifications for demanding the opportunity for reviewing Shelley McGuire’s methods paper? You can’t even construct a legible sentence with correct grammar and spelling, and your scientific acumen, per your posts, is highly lacking.

    • Peter Olins

      Perhaps it’s just a typo: it should be “pathological”.

  • Twan

    The preliminary work was presented at a scientific meeting, it was not published. At this stage you basically let other people look over your shoulder on what you are doing, talking about transparency.
    Sorry, but what do you mean with “back up their findings”? Data has been collected, results have been analyzed and there’s a “manuscript in preparation”, call me stupid but I don’t get your problem.
    If you’re interested, a few monhs ago the Green Politcal Party in Germany had their own “Glyphosate in breast milk study”. Samples came from trusted Party members but at least they found higher levels in urine compared to breast milk. Provided data were correct, for a daily allowable intake of glyphosate babies would have to drink >3000 L breast milk/day.

  • Peter Olins

    MAA has been remarkably reluctant to share any technical detail to support their claims about glyphosate in human milk. The laboratory they used, Microbe Innotech, offers an assay for glyphosate in water or urine, but no mention is made of validation for milk, which is probably a more difficult matrix.
    http://www.microbeinotech.com/Default.aspx?tabid=57

    If you are interested in environmental exposure to G, you may want to read this study of farmers who spray glyphosate. It seems likely that this is the section of the public which would have the highest level of exposure:
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1241861/pdf/ehp0112-000321.pdf

    I agree that larger population studies of glyphosate exposure might be interesting, but it would make more sense for this to be a controlled study performed by a qualified scientist.

    Regarding the “carcinogenicity” of glyphosate, the full IARC has not yet been published, and it appears that there actually is very little evidence for significant RISK. You can learn more about this at:
    http://theleagueofnerds.co.uk/2015/09/08/does-roundup-give-you-cancer/

  • Shelley McGuire

    Nope, unless the laboratory is run by a public university researcher, you can’t FOI the group in question.

  • Shelley McGuire

    My understanding is that FOI only applies to people who are getting their salaries from tax dollars.

  • Gene

    “the safety claims for Monsanto have been made by every major regulatory agency in the world, including in Europe, Asia and North America, and including the US Environmental Protection Agency”

    except:

    http://water.epa.gov/drink/contaminants/basicinformation/glyphosate.cf“What are glyphosate’s health effects?

    Some people who drink water containing glyphosate well in excess of the maximum contaminant level (MCL) for many years could experience problems with their kidneys or reproductive difficulties.

    This health effects language is not intended to catalog all possible health effects for glyphosate. Rather, it is intended to inform consumers of some of the possible health effects associated with glyphosate in drinking water when the rule was finalized.”