Just two weeks before the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) fully deregulated Monsanto's Roundup Ready alfalfa, a senior soil scientist alerted the department about a newly discovered, microscopic pathogen found in high concentrations of Roundup Ready corn and soy that researchers believe could be causing infertility in livestock and diseases in crops that could threaten the entire domestic food supply.
Dr. Don Huber, a plant pathologist and retired Purdue University professor, wrote in a letter to the USDA that the pathogen is new to science and appears to significantly impact the health of plants, animals and probably humans.
"For the past 40 years, I have been a scientist in the professional and military agencies that evaluate and prepare for natural and manmade biological threats, including germ warfare and disease outbreaks," Huber wrote in his January 16 letter to USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack. "Based on this experience, I believe the threat we are facing from this pathogen is unique and of a high risk status. In layman's terms, it should be treated as an emergency."
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Huber called for an immediate moratorium on approvals of Roundup Ready crops, but on January 27, the USDA fully deregulated Roundup Ready alfalfa after nearly five years of legal battles with farmers and environmental groups. The USDA partially deregulated Roundup Ready sugar beats on February 4.
The pathogen is about the size of a virus and reproduces like a micro-fungal organism. According to Huber, the organism may be the first micro-fungus of its kind ever discovered, and there is evidence that the infectious pathogen causes diseases in both plants and animals, which is very rare.
The pathogen is prevalent in soy crops suffering from a disease called sudden death syndrome and corn crops suffering from Goss' wilt disease.
Laboratory tests show that the pathogen is present in a "wide variety" of livestock suffering from infertility and spontaneous abortions. Huber warned that the pathogen could be responsible for reports of increased infertility rates in dairy cows and rates of spontaneous abortions in cattle as high as 45 percent.
Huber is concerned that the pathogen could be spreading because of overreliance on Monsanto's Roundup Ready crops systems, which have come to dominate American agribusiness during the past decade.
Monsanto's Roundup Ready corn, soy, cotton and alfalfa are genetically engineered to be resistant to glyphosate-base herbicides like Monsanto's Roundup. Farmers can blanket fields of Roundup Ready crops with glyphosate knowing that unwanted weeds will be killed and the genetically engineered crops will not.
"We are informing the USDA of our findings at this early stage, specifically due to your pending decision regarding approval of alfalfa," Huber wrote. "Naturally, if either the Roundup Ready gene or Roundup itself is a promoter or co-factor of this pathogen, then such approval could be a calamity."
Critics like Huber have long criticized glyphosate products like Roundup for weakening crops' natural defense systems and promoting the spread of glyphosate-resistant "superweeds" that have developed their own tolerance to glyphosate and infested millions of acres of farmland in the US alone.
"We are now seeing an unprecedented trend of increasing plant and animal diseases and disorders," Huber wrote. "This pathogen may be instrumental to understanding and solving this problem. It deserves immediate attention with significant resources to avoid a general collapse of our critical agricultural infrastructure."
Huber is a longstanding critic of biotech crops and coordinates a committee of the American Phytopathological Society as part of the USDA National Plant Disease Recovery System.