USDA senior scientist sends "emergency" warning to US Secretary of Agriculture
Tom Vilsack on a new plant pathogen in Roundup Ready GM soybean and corn that
may be responsible for high rates of infertility and spontaneous abortions in
livestock. Dr. Mae-Wan Ho
An open letter appeared on the Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance founded and run
by Judith McGeary to save family farms in the US [1, 2]. The letter, written
by Don Huber, professor emeritus at Purdue University, to Secretary of
Agriculture Tom Vilsack, warns of a pathogen "new to science" discovered by "a
team of senior plant and animal scientists". Huber says it should be treated as
an "emergency'', as it could result in "a collapse of US soy and corn export
markets and significant disruption of domestic food and feed supplies."
The letter appeared to have been written before Vilsack announced his decision
to authorize unrestricted commercial planting of GM alfalfa on 1 February, in
the hope of convincing the Secretary of Agriculture to impose a moratorium
instead on deregulation of Roundup Ready (RR) crops.
The new pathogen appears associated with serious pervasive diseases in plants -
sudden death syndrome in soybean and Goss' wilt in corn - but its suspected
effects on livestock is alarming. Huber refers to "recent reports of
infertility rates in dairy heifers of over 20%, and spontaneous abortions in
cattle as high as 45%."
This could be the worst nightmare of genetic engineering that some scientists
including me have been warning for years  (see Genetic Engineering Dream or
Nightmare, ISIS publication): the unintended creation of new pathogens through
assisted horizontal gene transfer and recombination.
Huber writes in closing: "I have studied plant pathogens for more than 50 years.
We are now seeing an unprecedented trend of increasing plant and animal diseases
and disorders. 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."
The complete letter is reproduced below.
Dear Secretary Vilsack:
A team of senior plant and animal scientists have recently brought to my
attention the discovery of an electron microscopic pathogen that appears to
significantly impact the health of plants, animals, and probably human beings.
Based on a review of the data, it is widespread, very serious, and is in much
higher concentrations in Roundup Ready (RR) soybeans and corn-suggesting a link
with the RR gene or more likely the presence of Roundup. This organism appears
NEW to science!
This is highly sensitive information that could result in a collapse of US soy
and corn export markets and significant disruption of domestic food and feed
supplies. On the other hand, this new organism may already be responsible for
significant harm (see below). My colleagues and I are therefore moving our
investigation forward with speed and discretion, and seek assistance from the
USDA and other entities to identify the pathogen's source, prevalence,
implications, and remedies.
We are informing the USDA of our findings at this early stage, specifically due
to your pending decision regarding approval of RR alfalfa. Naturally, if either
the RR gene or Roundup itself is a promoter or co-factor of this pathogen, then
such approval could be a calamity. Based on the current evidence, the only
reasonable action at this time would be to delay deregulation at least until
sufficient data has exonerated the RR system, if it does.
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. 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.
A diverse set of researchers working on this problem have contributed various
pieces of the puzzle, which together presents the following disturbing scenario:
Unique Physical Properties This previously unknown organism is only visible
under an electron microscope (36,000X), with an approximate size range equal to
a medium size virus. It is able to reproduce and appears to be a micro-fungal-
like organism. If so, it would be the first such micro-fungus ever identified.
There is strong evidence that this infectious agent promotes diseases of both
plants and mammals, which is very rare.
Pathogen Location and Concentration It is found in high concentrations in
Roundup Ready soybean meal and corn, distillers meal, fermentation feed
products, pig stomach contents, and pig and cattle placentas.
Linked with Outbreaks of Plant Disease The organism is prolific in plants
infected with two pervasive diseases that are driving down yields and farmer
income-sudden death syndrome (SDS) in soy, and Goss' wilt in corn. The pathogen
is also found in the fungal causative agent of SDS (Fusarium solani fsp
Implicated in Animal Reproductive Failure Laboratory tests have confirmed the
presence of this organism in a wide variety of livestock that have experienced
spontaneous abortions and infertility. Preliminary results from ongoing research
have also been able to reproduce abortions in a clinical setting.
The pathogen may explain the escalating frequency of infertility and spontaneous
abortions over the past few years in US cattle, dairy, swine, and horse
operations. These include recent reports of infertility rates in dairy heifers
of over 20%, and spontaneous abortions in cattle as high as 45%.
For example, 450 of 1,000 pregnant heifers fed wheatlege experienced
spontaneous abortions. Over the same period, another 1,000 heifers from the
same herd that were raised on hay had no abortions. High concentrations of the
pathogen were confirmed on the wheatlege, which likely had been under weed
management using glyphosate.
Recommendations In summary, because of the high titer of this new animal
pathogen in Roundup Ready crops, and its association with plant and animal
diseases that are reaching epidemic proportions, we request USDA's participation
in a multi-agency investigation, and an immediate moratorium on the deregulation
of RR crops until the causal/predisposing relationship with glyphosate and/or RR
plants can be ruled out as a threat to crop and animal production and human
It is urgent to examine whether the side-effects of glyphosate use may have
facilitated the growth of this pathogen, or allowed it to cause greater harm to
weakened plant and animal hosts. It is well-documented that glyphosate promotes
soil pathogens and is already implicated with the increase of more than 40 plant
diseases; it dismantles plant defenses by chelating vital nutrients; and it
reduces the bioavailability of nutrients in feed, which in turn can cause animal
disorders. To properly evaluate these factors, we request access to the relevant
I have studied plant pathogens for more than 50 years. We are now seeing an
unprecedented trend of increasing plant and animal diseases and disorders. 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.
COL (Ret.) Don M. Huber Emeritus Professor, Purdue University APS Coordinator,
USDA National Plant Disease Recovery System (NPDRS)
1. "Researcher: Glyphosate (Roundup) or Roundup Ready Crops May Cause
Animal Miscarriages", Jill Richardson, La Vida Locavore, 18 February 2011http://www.lavidalocavore.org/diary/4523
2. "Researcher: Glyphosate (Roundup) or Roundup Ready Crops May Cause Animal
Miscarriages", 18 February 2011, http://farmandranchfreedom.org/gmo-miscarriages
3. Ho MW. Genetic Engineering Dream of Nightmare? The Brave New World of Bad
Science and Big Business, Third World Network, Gateway Books, MacMillan,
Continuum, Penang, Malaysia, Bath, UK, Dublin, Ireland, New York, USA, 1998,
1999, 2007 (reprint with extended Introduction). http://www.i-
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