Origins of Glyphosate

The active chemical in Roundup is called glyphosate, which is currently the subject of class action litigation and through individual lawsuits. Glyphosate was originally a disinteresting chemical to scientists when it was discovered in 1950 by Swiss chemist Henry Martin. In fact, it wasn’t even patented for nearly a decade after its’ discovery – when it was patented by another company.

Henry Martin, who worked for a company called Cilag, which joined (via sale) the Johnson & Johnson family of companies in 1959. However, Johnson & Johnson only had purchased the company and records involving the discovery of glyphosate, and at that time, they presumably did not know the value of the discovery. In 1960, Stauffer Chemical patented glyphosate as a chemical binder (or chemical chelator) for minerals such as copper, zinc, and calcium. A chemical chelator, when appropriate for use in mammals, will bind to a mineral, which allows the body to excrete the mineral. For comparison, Tums© is a chemical chelator for calcium, in that a molecule in the medication binds with calcium (and other minerals) to form a chelate.

In a healthy human with healthy kidneys, there is no need to use chelators to remove minerals such as calcium and potassium, as the kidney organs manage the levels of those minerals and remove the excess. However, persons with Non-hodgkin’s lymphoma (NHL), multiple myeloma (MM), chronicic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL), and leukemia are likely to suffer kidney disease and kidney failure as a result of the cancer and treatment. These are the cancers which the science suggests may be causatively linked with the recent Monsanto class action lawsuits. In some cases, a treating physician might prescribe a chemical chelator as a supplement to dialysis to keep the patient’s mineral levels appropriate. If the science eventually demonstrates that glyphosate causes these cancers (which in turn cause kidney failure), it is a cruel twist of irony, as chemical chelators are essential to the treatment of many individuals with these cancers.

Glyphosate, as originally patented, sat dustily on a shelf and was rarely, if ever, produced. However, in 1970, Monsanto was very keen to advance the knowledge behind pesticides and funded a multitude scientific endeavors, which were aimed toward discovering and utilizing new chemicals as pesticides. Dr. John Franz led one such research group, which operated within the Monsanto corporation, and in 1970, he completed his third creation: glyphosate. It is likely that Monsanto was initially unaware of the previous history of the chemical. Nonetheless, they were able to secure a patent for glyphosate with an intended use as an herbicide, as opposed to a chemical chelator.

In 1972, another group of scientists at Monsanto (led by Dr. E. Jaworski) observed that spraying glyphosate on plants resulted in stifling creation of unspecified amino acids within the plant. These particular amino acids are essential to most plant’s metabolism. Armed with the knowledge that glyphosate was an ideal pesticide, Monsanto introduced Roundup to the commercial market in 1974. It flew off the shelves and increased farm yields as compared against competing products. However, it wasn’t until 1980 that Professor N. Amrhein and his co-workers identified the specifics of the metabolic interference.

Essentially, the chemical builds up and blocks pathways which are required for the plant to create energy. This in turn kills the plant. In the following years, Monsanto would use these findings as part of an effort to convince the public, state, federal, and international bodies that glyphosate was “safer than table salt” and “non-toxic to humans” on its way to earning billions in revenue annually from Roundup sales.

It is troubling to note that there are literally billions of chemical agents in the average human gut, and Monsanto could test the chemical against every amino acid and enzyme in our digestive systems. Recent studies suggest that some of these acids and enzymes are actually essential to many aspects of a successful human immune system. It is possible that glyphosate is both directly carcinogenic in that glyphosate may directly interact with our DNA, causing cancerous mutations, and indirectly carcinogenic in that it destroys enzymes which activate or otherwise positively interact with human immune systems.

These possibilities are currently being proffered by the plaintiff’s in individual lawsuits and in the context of mass-district litigation (also known as a class-action lawsuit). If the allegations are proven, Monsanto could have to re-dedicate a portion of their earnings from Roundup to the well-being of the members of the class action.

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