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Active ingredient in Roundup found in 95% of studied beers and wines

The controversial herbicide is everywhere, apparently.

(MsMaria/Shutterstock)
  • U.S. PIRG tested 20 beers and wines, including organics, and found Roundup's active ingredient in almost all of them.
  • A jury on August 2018 awarded a non-Hodgkin's lymphoma victim $289 million in Roundup damages.
  • Bayer/Monsanto says Roundup is totally safe. Others disagree.

If there were a Hall of Fame for chemicals people worry about, it's likely that Monsanto's weedkiller Roundup would sit near or at the top of that dark pantheon.

It's been linked to cancers, diabetes, Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, liver disease, kidney disease, birth defects and more. On top of that, many believe it's what's been killing off the world's bees, vital participants in the human food chain.

Now, research just published in February by the education group U.S. PIRG, illumines that the active ingredient in Roundup, glyphosate, may be impacting humans routinely via our drinking habits. In the group's study, 20 beers and wines, including some organic beverages, were tested for the presence of glyphosate. It was found in 19 of them.

What are you drinking?

The only drink tested that contained no glyphosate was Peak Beer Organic IPA. The comestible with the highest amount of glyphosate? Sutter Home Merlot. The 19 are shown below with the parts per billion (ppb) of glyphosate they contained.

Beers

  • Tsingtao Beer: 49.7 ppb
  • Coors Light: 31.1 ppb
  • Miller Lite: 29.8 ppb
  • Budweiser: 27.0 ppb
  • Corona Extra: 25.1 ppb
  • Heineken: 20.9 ppb
  • Guinness Draught: 20.3 ppb
  • Stella Artois: 18.7 ppb
  • Ace Perry Hard Cider: 14.5 ppb
  • Sierra Nevada Pale Ale: 11.8 ppb
  • New Belgium Fat Tire Amber Ale: 11.2 ppb
  • Sam Adams New England IPA: 11.0 ppb
  • Stella Artois Cidre: 9.1 ppb
  • Samuel Smith's Organic Lager: 5.7 ppb

Wines

  • Sutter Home Merlot: 51.4 ppb
  • Beringer Founders Estates Moscato: 42.6 ppb
  • Barefoot Cabernet Sauvignon: 36.3 ppb
  • Inkarri Malbec, Certified Organic: 5.3 ppb
  • Frey Organic Natural White: 4.8 ppb

Should such small amounts be of concern? Maybe. The report says:

"While these levels of glyphosate are below EPA risk tolerances for beverages, it is possible that even low levels of glyphosate can be problematic. For example, in one study, scientists found that 1 part per trillion of glyphosate has the potential to stimulate the growth of breast cancer cells and disrupt the endocrine system."

(Sheila Fitzgerald/Shutterstock)

Roundup on trial

The EPA says glyphosate is safe up to 2 milligrams per kilogram of body weight per day, and Bayer, who now owns Monsanto, claims that its safety for consumption by humans has been proven by years of research. However, the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer, among many others, disagrees, and considers glyphosate a potential human carcinogen. In addition, a new study finds that people exposed to glyphosate are 41 percent more likely to develop non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. France has banned Roundup's use, and other European nations are said to be considering their own bans on the weedkiller.

There's also a trial underway in federal court in San Francisco that consolidates 760 of the U.S.'s 9,300 Roundup cases into a single suit against Bayer by Edwin Hardeman, a California resident. It's viewed as a test case.

Hardeman is currently in remission from non-Hodgkin's after having used Roundup extensively beginning in the 1980s to control poison oak and weeds on his property. He was diagnosed with lymphoma at age 66 in 2015. Bayer asserts that Hardeman has other conditions — his age and history of Hepatitis C — that more likely led to his illness; in any event, their lawyers say, non-Hodgkin's is often idiopathic anyway.

The judge has divided the case into two phases. In the first, jurors are to determine whether Roundup caused Hardeman's illness based on scientific evidence presented in court. Unfortunately, the jurors are not scientists, and one may wonder just how reasonable an endeavor this really is — it's likely to come down to the persuasiveness of evidence that's inevitably cherry-picked by the opposing legal teams to support their case.

If the jurors find Roundup is the illness's cause, a second phase can commence to assess responsibility. The plaintiffs have called this bifurcation "unfair," specifically because they believe their scientific evidence involves Monsanto's repression of research damaging to claims of glyphosate's safety, and the judge is not allowing any such supposedly off-topic submissions.

In August 2018, a more conventional courtroom approach led to a finding that Monsanto was to blame for school groundskeeper Dewayne Johnson's non-Hodgkin's lymphoma because they failed to warn its users of Roundup's potential risk as a cancer-causing product. That jury awarded Johnson $289 million in damages. The amount was later reduced to $78 million.

There's enough Roundup sprayed every year to spray nearly half a pound of glyphosate on every cultivated acre of land in the world, says U.S. PIRG.

(U.S. PIRG)

A little extra kick in your beverage

This isn't the first time glyphosate's been found to have made its way into adult beverages. In Germany in 2016, the Munich Environmental Institute found it in every single sample they tested, including beers from independent brewers. A study in Latvia found the same thing. Using glyphosate directly on barley — beer's primary ingredient — is illegal in Germany, so it's most likely that the soil in which the crop was grown had been previously exposed to Roundup.

It's unlikely nine laypeople in a San Francisco courtroom will definitely answer the question of glyphosate's safety. It's clear that questions surrounding this ubiquitous weedkiller remain, Bayer's assertions notwithstanding.

U.S. PIRG concludes its report with a recommendation:

"Based on our findings, glyphosate is found in most beers and wine sold in the U.S. Due to glyphosate's many health risks and its ubiquitous nature in our food, water and alcohol, the use of glyphosate in the U.S. should be banned unless and until it can be proven safe."

(Kichigan/Shutterstock)

Neom, Saudi Arabia's $500 billion megacity, reaches its next phase

Construction of the $500 billion dollar tech city-state of the future is moving ahead.

Credit: Neom
Technology & Innovation
  • The futuristic megacity Neom is being built in Saudi Arabia.
  • The city will be fully automated, leading in health, education and quality of life.
  • It will feature an artificial moon, cloud seeding, robotic gladiators and flying taxis.
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Tuberculosis vaccine shows promise in reducing COVID deaths

A new study suggests that a century-old vaccine may reduce the severity of coronavirus cases.

Closeup of a BCG vaccination.

Credit: Kekyalyaynen.
Surprising Science
  • A new study finds a country's tuberculosis BCG vaccination is linked to its COVID-19 mortality rate.
  • More BCG vaccinations is connected to fewer severe coronavirus cases.
  • The study is preliminary and more research is needed to support the findings.
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Human brains remember certain words more easily than others

A study of the manner in which memory works turns up a surprising thing.

Image Point Fr / Shutterstock
Mind & Brain
  • Researchers have found that some basic words appear to be more memorable than others.
  • Some faces are also easier to commit to memory.
  • Scientists suggest that these words serve as semantic bridges when the brain is searching for a memory.

Cognitive psychologist Weizhen Xie (Zane) of the NIH's National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) works with people who have intractable epilepsy, a form of the disorder that can't be controlled with medications. During research into the brain activity of patients, he and his colleagues discovered something odd about human memory: It appears that certain basic words are consistently more memorable than other basic words.

The research is published in Nature Human Behaviour.

An odd find

Image source: Tsekhmister/Shutterstock

Xie's team was re-analyzing memory tests of 30 epilepsy patients undertaken by Kareem Zaghloul of NINDS.

"Our goal is to find and eliminate the source of these harmful and debilitating seizures," Zaghloul said. "The monitoring period also provides a rare opportunity to record the neural activity that controls other parts of our lives. With the help of these patient volunteers we have been able to uncover some of the blueprints behind our memories."

Specifically, the participants were shown word pairs, such as "hand" and "apple." To better understand how the brain might remember such pairings, after a brief interval, participants were supplied one of the two words and asked to recall the other. Of the 300 words used in the tests, five of them proved to be five times more likely to be recalled: pig, tank, doll, pond, and door.

The scientists were perplexed that these words were so much more memorable than words like "cat," "street," "stair," "couch," and "cloud."

Intrigued, the researchers looked at a second data source from a word test taken by 2,623 healthy individuals via Amazon's Mechanical Turk and found essentially the same thing.

"We saw that some things — in this case, words — may be inherently easier for our brains to recall than others," Zaghloul said. That the Mechanical Turk results were so similar may "provide the strongest evidence to date that what we discovered about how the brain controls memory in this set of patients may also be true for people outside of the study."

Why understanding memory matters

person holding missing piece from human head puzzle

Image source: Orawan Pattarawimonchai/Shutterstock

"Our memories play a fundamental role in who we are and how our brains work," Xie said. "However, one of the biggest challenges of studying memory is that people often remember the same things in different ways, making it difficult for researchers to compare people's performances on memory tests." He added that the search for some kind of unified theory of memory has been going on for over a century.

If a comprehensive understanding of the way memory works can be developed, the researchers say that "we can predict what people should remember in advance and understand how our brains do this, then we might be able to develop better ways to evaluate someone's overall brain health."

Party chat

Image source: joob_in/Shutterstock

Xie's interest in this was piqued during a conversation with Wilma Bainbridge of University of Chicago at a Christmas party a couple of years ago. Bainbridge was, at the time, wrapping up a study of 1,000 volunteers that suggested certain faces are universally more memorable than others.

Bainbridge recalls, "Our exciting finding is that there are some images of people or places that are inherently memorable for all people, even though we have each seen different things in our lives. And if image memorability is so powerful, this means we can know in advance what people are likely to remember or forget."

spinning 3D model of a brain

Temporal lobes

Image source: Anatomography/Wikimedia

At first, the scientists suspected that the memorable words and faces were simply recalled more frequently and were thus easier to recall. They envisioned them as being akin to "highly trafficked spots connected to smaller spots representing the less memorable words." They developed a modeling program based on word frequencies found in books, new articles, and Wikipedia pages. Unfortunately, the model was unable to predict or duplicate the results they saw in their clinical experiments.

Eventually, the researchers came to suspect that the memorability of certain words was linked to the frequency with which the brain used them as semantic links between other memories, making them often-visited hubs in individuals's memory networks, and therefore places the brain jumped to early and often when retrieving memories. This idea was supported by observed activity in participants' anterior temporal lobe, a language center.

In epilepsy patients, these words were so frequently recalled that subjects often shouted them out even when they were incorrect responses to word-pair inquiries.

Seek, find

Modern search engines no longer simply look for raw words when resolving an inquiry: They also look for semantic — contextual and meaning — connections so that the results they present may better anticipate what it is you're looking for. Xie suggests something similar may be happening in the brain: "You know when you type words into a search engine, and it shows you a list of highly relevant guesses? It feels like the search engine is reading your mind. Well, our results suggest that the brains of the subjects in this study did something similar when they tried to recall a paired word, and we think that this may happen when we remember many of our past experiences."

He also notes that it may one day be possible to leverage individuals' apparently wired-in knowledge of their language as a fixed point against which to assess the health of their memory and brain.

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