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"By denying scientific principles, one may maintain any paradox." – Galileo Galilei

Glyphosate and Autism: Back to a Fake News Story [English Translation]

Glyphosate is thought to be responsible for the episode of chronic disease, particularly the assumed increase in autism. Enquiry into the origin of this rumour, carefully maintained by the environmentalist.

Among the strong accusations levelled by anti-pesticide activists against glyphosate is the contention that there is a link between this damned herbicide and the progression of autism. The rumour circulates – such as the “fake news” just recently published by the President Macron – to the point that a simple Google search based on these two words, “glyphosate” and “autism”, returns no less than 25,000 hits.

Naturally, these accusations were repeated in Le Roundup face à ses juges, Marie-Monique Robin’s latest opus, which is based mainly on arguments developed by two American figures in the fight against glyphosate: Anthony Samsel and Stephanie Seneff, respectively, present as “biochemist” and “Senior Research Scientist at the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)”. Neither of them is qualified in general health and autism in particular. Seneff holds a bachelor’s degree in biophysics and is a researcher at MIT, but is attached to the computer science and artificial intelligence laboratory, while Samsel runs a service company, Samsel Environmental and Public Health Services, which was created thirty-seven years ago and which conducts “community surveys of industrial polluters”.

Regardless of their differences, these two acolytes began to break the news with a first article published in Entropy in January 2013. Entitled “Glyphosate’s Suppression of Cytochrome P450 Enzymes and Amino Acid Biosynthesis by the Gut Microbiome: Pathways to Modern Diseases”, the article aims to show “how the indefinable effects of glyphosate on the intestinal microbiota, in conjunction with its ability to inhibit the activity of cytochromic enzymes P450 (CYP) and the probable alteration of sulphate transport that it generates, can explain in a remarkable way a great number of diseases and pathological states which are present in the modern industrialized world “. According to the authors, glyphosate could plausibly contribute to the emergence not only of autism, but also of inflammatory bowel diseases, of the obesity, depression, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, cancer, cachexia, infertility and developmental malformations. In short, absolute poison.

The cause of all these “modern diseases”

In five other articles published thereafter, Samsel and Seneff each write about the role of glyphosate in all these “modern diseases”. Including celiac disease, more commonly known as gluten intoxication. “Anthony Samsel (…) and Stephanie Seneff decided to take a closer look at the origin of a disease that has particularly developed in recent years. Published by the quarterly scientific journal Interdisciplinary Toxicology, the results of the study they carried out are likely to worry one of the most famous American companies: Monsanto”, notes Justine Mazzoni in her introduction in an article published in Le Point in May 2014, when the study entitled “Glyphosate, pathways to modern diseases II: Celiac sprue and gluten intolerance” was published.

The statements of Samsel and Seneff were therefore not taken seriously by the scientific community.

She continues: “Anthony Samsel and Stephanie Seneff actually discovered that gluten poisoning was linked to the massive use of Roundup, the world’s most widely used herbicide and Monsanto’s flagship product. The active ingredient of this weedkiller marketed since 1975, glyphosate, is said to be “the most important factor in this episode”, according to this study.”

As Science and Future notes, however, this “discovery” did not really convince the medical profession. Much more modelled in its conclusions, the scientific magazine notes that “this study caused some researchers to be dismayed by the fact that some researchers strongly question the nature of these results”.  The professor at the University of Paris-Vereus strongly portrayed the same methodology of the two researchers: “It is as if I affirmed that rain could explain the fall in popularity of François Holland, by basing my demonstration on television and a book of polls. My conclusion would be to invite governments to reconsider public policies by banning rain on weekends or the distribution of umbrellas!”

Same observation by Luc Multigner, epidemologist at Insern and specialist in the effects of pesticides on health: “Some figures in the study do not establish any serious causal link between gluten intoxication and the Roundup of Monsanto. If the authors had corrected them with the increase in Tasmania’s postage stamps or with the evolution of the number of Internet connections in Tajikistan during the same period, they would have come to similar conclusions “. The statements of Samsel and Seneff were therefore not taken seriously by the scientific community.

Focus on Autism

However, in their anti-glyphosate crusade, Samsel and Seneff insist on another disease: autism. At a conference in June 2014, Seneff was unable to make a strong enough statement that it was relayed many times in the media and on blogs with a natural health and environmental tendency: “By 2025, one out of every two children will have autism in the United States”. In their first publication, Seneff and Samsel state that “the recent increase in autism diagnosis rates in the United States is alarming”. “A review of the literature on glyphosate confirmed our suspicions that glyphosate could play a role, and led us to believe that glyphosate is probably the environmental toxin that contributes most to autism”, they continue in the article.

The formal proof of this is given in a two-curve graph that Seneff presented at a conference in which Marie-Monique Robin participated: “one indicated the increase in the use of Roundup in American fields; the other, the number of cases of autism recorded annually by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta”.

Convinced, the journalist writes in her book: “And it is true that the two curves perfectly fit together, with an exponential collage initiated around 1995”. Both authors simply reported “an intellectual evasion that is not a scientific work, but a kind of biological version of the conspiracy theory”, says François Belzile.

In short, in the case of autism, we find exactly the same methodology as the one used to show the alleged link between glyphosate and gluten intoxication: a simple statistical correction without gluten intoxication.

According to the daily newspaper Le Soleil, which interviewed the professor of phytology at the Université à Laval François Belzile, the hypothetical hypothesis of an alteration of cytochrome P450 (CYP) enzyme activity is not credible. “First, CYPs are “a very large family” of enzymes that can vary greatly from one species to another, which is ignored in the article. Then, they come along with the fact that glyphosate has already been tested on human CYPs and does not inhibit them – except for one, the poetic called 2C9, but this implies concentrations that are impossible to achieve in practice in the human body. The worst thing is that Samsel and Seneff themselves cite this study of human CYPs in their article, but they apparently chose to ignore the passages that made their theory softer”, notes François Belzile, which does not presume to conclude that the two authors simply labored “an intellectual evasion which is not a scientific work, but a kind of biological version of the conspiracy theory”.

A devastated critic

Asked by Marie-Monique Robin about the arguments of their tractors, Stephanie Seneff answered: “I know the argument! He regularly returns to the nibs of industrialists or their affidavits”. The classic answer to this question, which makes it possible to exclude any type of confutation ! However, the greatest critics of the arguments put forward by the two American activists come from two scientific authors, Robin Mesnage and Michael Antoniou, frankly unlikely to be afflicted by industrialists. Members of the CRIIGEN scientific council of lawyer Corinne Lepage, Mesnage and Antoniou are well known for their commitment against synthetic pesticides. Co-authors of several studies on glyphosate with Gilles-Eric Séralini, Robin Mesnage at the end of 2013 made a study work concerning the long-term health effects of pesticides and GMOs.

The five Mistakes of Samsel and Seneff

In November 2017, in the midst of the glyphosate debate, Mesnage and Antoniou published a major article entitled “Facts and Errors in the Battle on the Toxicity of Glyphosate”. Their paper focuses on Anthony Samsel and Stephanie Seneff, the two authors of “a series of commentaries suggesting that prolonged exposure to glyphosate is responsible for many chronic diseases (cancer), diabetes, neuropathy, neuropathy, obesity, asthma, infections, osteoarthritis, infertility, and congenital malformations”. The two CRIIGEN officials wanted to examine “the evidence base for these predicted adverse health effects and the mechanisms assumed to be at their origin”. They went through five “comments” from Samsel and Seneff that link environmental exposures of glyphosate to the development of a wide range of chronic diseases.

Their first comment concerns Samsel and Seneff’s attempt to link glyphosate ingestion with “most diseases and conditions associated with a Western diet”. According to the two anti-glyphosate activists, the latter would suppress the activity of the cytochrome P450 (CYP450) enzyme class of enzymes and thus the bio synthetization of amine acids by the intestinal microbiome. However, Mesnage and Antoniou note that, in their commentary, “some studies are formless and poorly cited”. In fact, studies indicate that the opposite is true! “Overall, a literature review shows that glyphosate and Roundup are likely to increase CYP450 activity”, Mesnage and Antoniou note.

The second comment goes back to the predicted impact of glyphosate on gluten intoxication “epidaemia” (or NCGS disease). Mesnage and Antoniou also received this hypothesis, explaining that Seneff and Samsel base their assertions on the following syllogism: The greatest critics of Samsel’s and Seneff’s arguments are two scientific authors, Robin Mesnage and Michael Antoniou, frankly little suspected of being afflicted by industrialists…

“Since glyphosate could have effects on the intestinal microbiome, and since NCGS disease is associated with imbalances in intestinal bacte-nothing populations, glyphosate could fully explain the etiology of this disease.” A part for the two people responsible for CRIIGEN, a “causal link between glyphosate and intestinal disorders associated with intestinal microbioma remains hypothetical”. Above all, there is nothing in the scientific literature to the contrary.

In a third comment, it is argued that the chelation of manganese by glyphosate is a cause of chronic diseases. However, with regards to the 328 references in Seneff and Samsel’s paper, which support this hypothesis, “a single study reports the effects of glyphosate on Mn levels in animals”, note Mesnage and Antoniou, pointing out that in this one study alone abnormally low Mn levels “were not correlated with urinary glyphosate levels”.

Then comes the fourth comment: “The main message of this publication is that glyphosate, as a derivative of glycine, can substitute for native amine acid in proteins. Based on this assumption, it is postulated that such improper incorporation of glyphosate in place of glycine can lead to a poor polypeptide cellars fold and an aberrant cellular biochemistry, likely to lead to disease”. Once again, there is nothing to establish the existence of this substitution, note Mesnage and Antoniou, pointing out on the contrary that “there is good experimental evidence that this does not happen”.

But it is on the impact between cancer and the use of glyphosate that Mesnage and Antoniou bring the most contradictory contradiction, revealing the obvious incompleteness of Samsel and Seneff, including in the most basic statistical treatments. “It is well established that there is always a delay or latency period between exposure to a canceegene and the formation and detection of cancer, with the delay varying according to the type of cancer. Thus, the fact that increases in the use of glyphosate herbicides overlap with, for example, peak breast cancer rates, is more indicative of a lack of connection than a link between the two genomes.”

A killing conclusion

More generally, Mesnage and Antoniou conclude in a murderous manner: “Our critical analysis of the comments published by Samsel and Seneff confirms that their conclusions are not tested by experimental evidence but are based on a type of fault logic known as syllogism error”. They say: “Thus, the mechanisms and the wide range of conditions that Samsel and Seneff suggest in their comments that they are the result of glyphosate toxicity, are at the very worst of unfounded theories or speculations, at best simply incorrect. This erroneous depiction of glyphosate toxicity misleads the public, the scientific community and regulatory bodies.”

Needless to say that all of these criticisms, though totally accessible, have been ignored by the frank media…