Over the Christmas break I read a fascinating book by an investigative journalist named Carey Gillam. The title of the book was ‘WhiteWash.’ The story of a weed killer, cancer, and the corruption of science.

Erin Brockovich writes: “Whitewash reads like a mystery novel and Gillam skilfully uncovers Monsanto’s secretive strategies.” She is right on the money!

I have never been a fan of Glyphosate/Roundup. Anyone who knows me will be aware of that. I am suspicious of any chemical that kills a living thing, especially synthetically developed chemicals. I like to know what the collateral damage is going to be and I do not trust promotional blurbs on labels.

whitewash book review

Whitewash, although full of facts and dates was extremely easy to read! The author includes case studies which humanises the story; tales about the experiences of farmers themselves. She has also included a reference material list as long as your arm in the back of the book. If you are so inclined it would be relatively easy to check the authenticity of material. I thoroughly recommend people get a copy and read it cover to cover.

So what details ‘stuck out’ for me?

I did not realise that it was common practice by cereal farmers to spray glyphosate as a desiccant (drying agent) on their crops a couple of weeks prior to harvesting. Cereals, including baby food, grown in the USA, Canada, and Argentina for example.

To satisfy my curiosity I conducted some quick searches on the net and found that generally, agricultural experts believe that provided the farmers use the product as per label instructions, there should be no residual in the grain, let alone the flour made from it. Yet Gillam relays the story about Joel Ransom, an agronomist at the state university of Dakota. He became so curious about the residues in flour he conducted his own tests on samples of locally grown red spring wheat flour, plus 4 samples grown in Saskatchewan, Canada. He found every single sample contained glyphosate residues.

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has decided that an acceptable dose for humans is 1.75mg/kg/day which is fivefold higher than the acceptable intake in the EU of 0.3mg/kg/day. The USA allows among the highest levels of glyphosate residues which critics say underscores the levels of influence Monsanto has with its regulators. Gillam provides lots of evidence to support this view in her book.

Monsanto and other big companies would have you believe that their products are safe and that they have completed all the necessary research. But when you read just how incestuous the relationship between these companies and the governmental departments ie EPA, the trust quickly erodes to scepticism. I was aware of some of the worrying issues with glyphosate, but Whitewash also describes the research and findings undertaken by independent scientific bodies from all over the world.

Some are listed below:

  • Brazilian scientists found that Roundup appeared to disrupt male reproduction in rats
  • British scientists feeding very low doses to female rats found cell damage in their livers.
  • Brazilian scientists published research where very young animals given soy milk laced with glyphosate suffered damaging hormonal changes. Soy milk is given to infants worldwide.
  • Argentina: low doses of glyphosate caused spinal defects in frogs and chickens.

There are documented deaths and illness of farmers/glyphosate users throughout the US who claim that Roundup causes cancer – specifically Non Hodgkins lymphoma. There is a movement of thousands of people who are bringing wrongful death lawsuits against Monsanto.

Many researchers fear that the worst impacts of glyphosate on human health may be as an endocrine disruptor ie chemicals that interfere with hormones in the human body in ways that cause cancers, birth defects and other developmental disorders.

WhiteWash describes how the great hope that glyphosate would be a safe, effective, permanent, aid in the fight against weeds has been dashed. Roundup resistant super weeds are developing and increasing rapidly. The large chemical companies now have to mix other known dangerous products with Roundup to improve efficacy. Ie 2,4-D and Dicamba. Dicamba has been associated with lung and colon cancer and birth defects. Some farmers also resuming the use of Paraquat.

Gillam also covers the damage done to the soil microbes. My pet subject. The title of this chapter is perfect; ‘When Weeds Don’t Die but Butterflies Do’. Among a heap of other things, she describes the work of a research microbiologist Robert Kremer. He started seeing that the roots of Roundup ready crops that had been sprayed with glyphosate became ravaged, and swarming with harmful fungi. The soil changes left plants more vulnerable to disease and interfered with mineral absorption. He also found that glyphosate released into the soil could persist for one or two years. I suspect that this time frame is quite conservative.

So dear reader: If you check my blogs from time to time you are more than likely to share my views regarding health of food production systems and environment. This book was terrifyingly absorbing, describing a huge number of detailed issues than I have mentioned above. I could not put it down. If you haven’t already done so get a copy. It’s available on Google books, BookDepository and Booktopia, plus other outlets I would think.