Last year, Cenk Uygur and Ana Kasparian of the Young Turks published a video reporting on a class action lawsuit filed against Monsanto by people claiming the company failed to warn consumers about the risk of cancer associated with their herbicide, Roundup. As you can imagine, accurately reporting on such a controversial and emotionally charged topic requires a good understanding of the subject, however, the Turks, in their arrogance, believed they were more than qualified to cover the story despite not being able to comprehend the basics, like why people would want to engineer a plant resistant to this herbicide.
“Monsanto genetically modified crops in order to withstand Roundup and that was always super suspicious to me because – It’s not about genetically modifying plants or crops, it’s about why you would want to do so? Why would you want to use a product that’s so freaking toxic that you would have to go out of your way to genetically modify it” – Ana Kasparian
In their video titled ‘Monsanto Giving People Cancer?’ which abides by Betteridge’s law of headlines, which states that “Any headline that ends in a question mark can be answered by the word no”, they stumbled their way through a CNN blog post, vomiting out the text practically verbatim, whilst injecting their own paranoid conspiratorial views on the subject. For example, when confronted with the fact that the EPA believes glyphosate (the active ingredient in Round-Up) is not likely to be carcinogenic to humans, Cenk says the following.
“But also keep in mind that someone who was working within the EPA at the time that statement was released had very cozy ties to Monsanto and that they were working with scientists in order to manipulate the outcomes of certain scientific research” – Cenk Uygur
You would be forgiven in thinking such a narrow-minded statement would have come from the likes of Alex Jones, however, the Turks have shown time and time again that they only “love science” (a statement they repeat ad nauseam, usually before saying something at odds with the scientific consensus) when it aligns with their political standing.
Chemophobia on the Young Turks’ YouTube channel is nothing new, but recently they have outdone themselves when they uploaded a video that would not be out of place on Natural News. The video in question is called ‘Deadly Monsanto Weedkiller Discovered In Popular Beer And Wines’ and is the kind of propaganda that would make even Kim Jong-un blush. What’s worse, and should be very concerning for all Young Turk fans, is that this agrochemical hit piece is the perfect example of native advertising.
The video comes from a Young Turk partnered radio talk show called Ring of Fire starring Mike Papantonio (an attorney specialising in mass torts litigation) and Farron Cousins (the executive editor of The Trial Lawyer magazine). In front of a graphic that reads “Monsanto Poison”, the two discuss a recent study that reports that most popular beers and wine brands in America are contaminated with “dangerous amounts of Monsanto’s weed killer Round-Up”. This, apparently, poses a “HUGE health hazard to American consumers” because the active compound has been linked to a plethora of illnesses.
“A recent study has found that the most popular beers and wines contain dangerous amounts of Monsanto’s weed killer RoundUp. It’s everywhere! Dangerous amounts! It poses a huge health hazard to American consumers and people don’t understand it. The story is not been told how dangerous this product is” – Mike Papantonio
Looking past that fact that Monsanto’s patent on glyphosate expired back in 2000, and now the herbicide is synthesised by the likes of DuPont, Dow AgroSciences, BASF, and Syngenta, to name a few, I was curious to know from what study in a presumably reputable journal Mike and Farron where quoting from. You can imagine my surprise when I discovered it came from the same people who tried to sell us “molecular hydrogen” as a panacea. I am, of course, talking about the geniuses at the cutting edge of the scientific frontier, Moms Across America (MAA).
MAA is a group of mothers who, for some unknown reason, have decided to publish their ignorance and lack of critical thinking online. I know that sounds harsh, but in all honesty, there is no better way of explaining these people’s promotion of bad science and conspiracy theories regarding GMOs and glyphosate. In recent years, they have took it upon themselves to commission laboratory analysis testing for trace amounts of glyphosate in things like vaccinations.
Back in 2016, in partnership with Stephanie Seneff (a woman who believes that one in two children will be autistic by 2025 by simply extrapolating back from current trends and therefore presumably thinks that number will increase indefinitely), MMA arranged for five childhood vaccines (influenza, MMR, Pneumococcal, Hep B, and T Dap) to be tested for trace amounts of glyphosate. They found that all five had been contaminated with the herbicide, and published their findings in a report titled “Widespread Contamination of Glyphosate: water, rain, food, breast milk, beer, wine and now…vaccines? Tests for Glyphosate in Childhood Vaccines Positive”.
The results published in the report came from Microbe Inotech Laboratories Inc who used a method known as a enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) to detect glyphosate below the one part per billion (ppb) range. Although this method can be used to detect a wide range of chemicals when used to detect minuscule quantities, ELISAs suffer from interference and can only be used for a very rough approximation. To truly prove that your sample contains any glyphosate at this level would require the use of a more sensitive and accurate technique such as a GC-MS or LC-MS. The MAA report openly admits this, but ignores the fact that at this scale ELISA false positives and negatives are possible.
There is also a lot of information missing from this report that makes me question the validity of their results. For example, nowhere does it mention the method they used to extract the glyphosate from the vaccines. Nor does it say how many times the tests were repeated to get an accurate result, or what standards were used. The most damning piece of information missing from the MAA report was the fact that the lab results came with a disclaimer which stated that Microbe Inotech Laboratories Inc “make no warranty to the fitness of this data for such purposes”.
Despite using a method that is prone to interference at this scale, openly admitting that they require a more sensitive technique, and using a laboratory that don’t stand by their own results, MAA published their findings hoping to scare parents enough to prevent them from getting their children vaccinated. As they were doing this, they perpetuated the erroneous link between vaccinations and autism with their own unique take on the conspiracy. In the report, they implied that it is the potentially non-existent glyphosate in vaccines that causes autism, and that you can cure it in six weeks by preventing exposure to the compound.
In the same year using the same method they attempted to identify trace amounts of glyphosate this time in ten major California wines. Once again all their results came back possible for miniscule amounts of glyphosate and once again the lab results came with a disclaimer.
I don’t think I have ever heard of an analytic lab publishing a disclaimer on their findings essentially saying that, not only do they have no confidence in their results, but also that their method is not fit for the purpose it is being used for. The whole point of using a service like this is so you can get reliable data – something which they have not provided and therefore should be dismissed.
A year later, in 2017, MAA upped their game and commissioned a different lab to use a LC-MS to detect the presence of glyphosate and its metabolite, AMPA, in beer. A total of 25 beers were tested, however for some strange reason they were not individually tested. Instead they were organised into 3 groups (conventional beer brands, independent beer brands, and organic beer brands) and a composite sample was taken and then tested. We therefore can’t say for sure that every beer contained trace amounts of glyphosate, as it’s entirely possible that only one beer in each group contained the herbicide.
The highest concentration of glyphosate and its metabolite were found in the independent beer composite sample. At a level of 13.6 ppb (ng/ml) this is well with under the EPA established tolerance for glyphosate in drinking water, which is 700 parts per billion. However, according to the video published on the Young Turks’ YouTube channel, Mike Papantonio states that glyphosate can cause cancer at the parts per trillion (ppt) range.
“We should at least believe that we are not going to find RoundUp in our organic wine, right? That’s not the case. As a matter of fact, as we look at this story what we find is that even with organic… with organic wine you find 23 ppb in the wine. Now that doesn’t like… that doesn’t sound like a problem. It is a huge problem because the cancer research that’s coming out is very clear. It shows that 1 part per trillion has the ability to cause breast cancer cell division. Now, if you don’t understand that, it’s very clear. They are talking about.. they know that 23 parts per billion is in the wine that you are drinking with glyphosate. With Roundup, elements of Roundup. They also know that 1 part per trillion has the ability to cause cancer.” – Mike Papantonio
Here, Mike is referring to the paper, ‘Glyphosate induces human breast cancer cells growth via estrogen receptors’ which, as the title suggests, reports that the herbicide induces the growth of human breast cancer. However, this one study is at odds with what has been established in the scientific literature, which is that glyphosate does not have estrogenic activity. An analysis of the available literature investigating the developmental and reproductive safety of glyphosate performed by William et al. (2012) concluded with “The available literature shows no solid evidence linking glyphosate exposure to adverse developmental or reproductive effects at environmentally realistic exposure concentrations.” What’s also important to note is that this research quoted by Mike was performed on already cancerous cells, and in no way did the study implicate glyphosate as inducing human breast cancer. So, when Mike says that studies show that 1ppt of glyphosate has the ability to cause cancer, he is 100% wrong.
This is not the only example of Mike embellishing scientific research to invoke fear in the viewer.
“The World Health Organisation for God’s sake. The IARC, the World Health Organisation – the UN World Health Organisation said they studied it and said this stuff will cause cancer” – Mike Papantonio
Nope! Neither the IARC or the World Health Organisation ever said that! They stated that there was sufficient evidence in animals that it was carcinogenic and limited, but potentially positive, evidence of carcinogenicity in humans. However, to be blunt, the IARC’s report misrepresented the science in the papers they were referencing to come to that conclusion. For those who are interested, myself and fellow co-host of The League of Nerds, James, made a video where we discuss the IARC report and show how embarrassingly void it is and talk about how it was tarnishing the reputation of the WHO.
Towards the end of the Young Turks video, Farron began to list in alphabetical order a number of illnesses that are allegedly associated with glyphosate exposure. I was hoping to read the peer-reviewed literature this list was based on to check its validity, however, the only link in the video description was to Mike’s personal injury law firm, Levin Papantonio. It was only after reading the linked page that I realised that I had not been watching an opinion piece by two clueless fear-mongers, but the perfect example of native advertising by people who are perpetuating misinformation to make a quick buck.
Native advertising is a type of advertising that matches the look, feel and function of the media format in which it appears. Essentially, the idea is to make an ad that doesn’t feel like an ad, and therefore expose the consumer to advertising without them knowing about it. In this case, what looks like a report on herbicide found in beer and wine is actually an advert for Mike’s law firm, who are actively trying to find people who are suffering from cancer and who, because of the kind of misinformation Mike and Farron are spreading, believe it was caused by exposure to glyphosate.
The Young Turks say they “love science”, but would anyone who truly cared for the scientific process allow this nonsense to be published under their name? A video whose primary source of information comes from a woman who believes you can cure autism in under 6 weeks, and is selling “molecular hydrogen” as a panacea. A video that promotes results from an analytical laboratory who don’t stand by their own methods or findings. A video that refers to anti-GMO activist Gilles-Éric Séralini as having “no axe to grind” and having no agenda.
As I said at the beginning, this video is nothing short of pure propaganda designed to scare the average consumer and to enrage cancer sufferers, all whilst funnelling that fear and rage towards their website where they can offer their services.
Also, these people do know that ethanol is a KNOWN carcinogen…..right?