Since the mid-1990s, a mysterious fatal kidney disease has been afflicting rural farmers across the globe. Its impact ranges from Nicaragua, El Salvador and Costa Rica to India and northern Sri Lanka. The disease has come to be known as chronic kidney disease of unknown origin, or CKDu.
In a recent study, published by the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, the onset of the epidemic of CKDu has been linked to the use of the popular herbicide “Roundup,” or glyphosate. This herbicide is sold by Monsanto, an American chemical and agricultural biotechnology corporation.
Glyphosate is an herbicide that inhibits the growth of plants and is used in poor farming regions around the world including, but not limited to, those mentioned above.
The link between glyphosate and CKDu arose when scientists discovered that those who were at risk of contracting the disease lived in certain geographical regions and represented a specific socioeconomic class.
In the study, researchers hypothesized that while glyphosate is toxic, it is not capable of destroying kidney tissue to the extent that is seen with CKDu. Thus, they proposed that when mixed with heavy metals often found in ‘hard’ groundwater, such as arsenic, cadmium and magnesium, glyphosate becomes extremely toxic to the kidneys.
A strong association was found between areas with a high consumption of ‘hard’ groundwater and the occurrence of CKDu. In Sri Lanka alone, 96% of CKDu patients had consumed ‘hard’ groundwater for at least five years prior to their diagnosis.
Biological components alone are not enough to explain why this disease has been confined to certain geographical areas. Its manifestation is both historically deep and socioeconomically relevant.
CKDu began to appear two decades ago in farming regions in El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, India and Sri Lanka, where glyphosate was widely used.
Sri Lanka, for example, began undergoing serious agricultural changes beginning in 1977. Monsanto began importing chemicals like glyphosate, which introduced the nation to years of cumulative exposure to toxic compounds. The bioaccumulation of glyphosate within the body and the surrounding environment is likely to have caused the sudden appearance of CKDu in the 90’s.
Among other countries like El Salvador, CKDu is the second leading cause of death among men. In Nicaragua, it has accounted for roughly half of all male deaths in the last ten years. In both of these countries, the disease has killed more people than diabetes, AIDS and leukemia combined over the past five years. One tiny village in Nicaragua has now come to be known as “La Isla de Viudas,” translated as “The Island of Widows.”
These statistics certainly don’t bode well for Monsanto’s future credibility.
Monsanto is currently the leading producer of genetically engineered seeds and the herbicide glyphosate. The corporation was founded in 1901 and has since left a slew of controversy in its wake.
Included among the chemicals that Monsanto has previously manufactured are DDT, PCBs and the notorious Agent Orange. All of them have proved to be highly toxic and known to cause severe health problems.
It seems as if Monsanto is back again, with glyphosate as its new chemical of choice.
– Mollie O’Brien