Do Gary Ruskin and Zen Honeycutt care about babies?

Large spray container and nozzle used for spraying chemicals

I care about babies.

Gary Ruskin, co-director of U.S. Right to Know (USRTK), and Zen Honeycutt, founder of Moms Across America (MAA) claim they care about babies, too.

They are both anti-GMO advocates, meaning they oppose oppose genetically modified organisms, typically agricultural plants. In particular, they oppose Monsanto seeds that have been genetically modified to survive treatment with the pesticide RoundUp (glyphosate) because they believe that glyphosphate can harm babies.

Indeed, MAA in conjunction with European anti-GMO group Sustainable Pulse published a “pilot study” claiming to show that the glyphosate can be found in human breastmilk, under the heading World’s Number 1 Herbicide Discovered in U.S. Mothers’ Breast Milk.

[pullquote align=”right” color=”#00986a”]How does filing a FOIA request help mothers and babies?[/pullquote]

Where was this study published? It wasn’t published in a peer review scientific journal at all.

Which scientists performed the study? To my knowledge, no scientists were involved.

How was the study conducted? When asked by lactation researcher Michelle (Shelley) McGuire, PhD, Associate Professor of Biological Sciences at Washington State University, how the samples were collected, characteristics of the study subjects; and the analytical methods used, Honeycutt responded:

As this was not a scientific study we did not collect all the data you are hoping for. The testing was the best available method.

Nice to know that MAA recognizes that their data does not constitute a scientific study.

Prof. McGuire then proceeded to conduct an actual scientific study and presented the findings at Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology conference on Origins and Benefits of Biologically Active Components in Human Milk in mid-July.

According to a press release issued by WSU:

Washington State University scientists have found that glyphosate, the main ingredient in the herbicide Roundup, does not accumulate in mother’s breast milk.
Michelle McGuire, an associate professor in the WSU School of Biological Sciences, is the lead researcher of the study, which is the first to have its results independently verified by an accredited, outside organization.

Her findings, presented at the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology Conference on July 23 in Big Sky, Mont., show that glyphosate, the most used weed-killing chemical in the world, does not accumulate over time in human milk…

Analyses of the milk samples were conducted in Monsanto laboratories in St. Louis and independently verified at Wisconsin-based Covance Laboratories, which is not affiliated with the WSU/UI research team or Monsanto.

Whom should we believe, the MAA or a real lactation researcher? I’m dubious about claims made that rest on data acknowledged as “not a scientific study.” How about the claims of Dr. McGuire? Her bibliography is extensive, including a study I quoted in a recent piece about the immunological properties of breastmilk.

McGuire has, in the past, taken money from Monsanto for research and, as disclosed in the press release, Monsanto was involved in the initial testing of the breastmilk samples. Therefore, it’s worth taking a second look at Prof. McGuire’s research for insight into any conflict of interest. Her bibliography is quite extensive and includes papers like:

Conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) in human plasma and lipid fractions and their relations with CLA intake. J Nutr, in press.

Human milk oligosaccharides promote the growth of staphylococci. Appl Environ Micro May 2012, doi: 10.1128/​AEM.00477-12.

Mastitis increases free fatty acids and markers of inflammation in human milk. J Breastfeed Med May 2012, doi:10.1089/bfm.2011.0141.

Characterization of the diversity and temporal stability of bacterial communities in human milk. PLoS ONE 6(6): e21313. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0021313

Documentation of fatty acid profiles in lamb meat and lamb-based infant foods. J Food Sci. 76:H43-7.

On cursory inspection, I can’t find any evidence that McGuire has produced research beneficial to Monsanto. Nonetheless, we now have one organization claiming to have found RoundUp in breastmilk and a scientist claiming that she could not find RoundUp in breastmilk.

What should we do?

If we care about babies, we should commission a third, independent study to settle the question.

That’s not what Ruskin and his organization chose to do. They filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request demanding that McGuire turn over all emails linked to her research. FOIA requests certainly have their place in investigative journalism, but they can’t resolve scientific controversies. No matter what is contained in McGuire’s email, it can’t answer the question whether RoundUp sprayed on GMO crops ends up in breastmilk.

In other words, burdening Prof. McGuire with a FOIA request does NOTHING for babies or breastfeeding mothers. Ruskin and Honeycutt may be hoping to discredit McGuire, but that won’t transform MAA’s data — by Honeycutt’s own admission “not a scientific study” — into valid scientific evidence. I don’t know if they intend to intimidate McGuire or others who do research whose conclusions don’t support their claims, but that won’t help babies or breastfeeding mothers either.

Ironically, Honeycutt questioned McGuire’s concern for the well being of babies:

Moms Across America got nothing wrong. The results are what they are. In fact we clearly state in the report that while mother’s breast milk is the number one choice, we just suggest eating organic. Apparently eating organic, and not GMOs, is what you really have the problem with. I do not know how you sleep. Shame on you for contributing to more confusion, lies and protecting the profits of corporations rather than people and babies.

So here’s what I want to know:

Mr. Ruskin and Ms. Honeycutt, how does filing a FOIA request against Prof. McGuire help mothers and babies?

It doesn’t, does it?

Do you care about babies?

If you do, you will contribute funds toward an investigation conducted by an independent scientist that can tell us whether RoundUp can be passed to babies through breastmilk. But, as far as I can determine, you’ve said nothing about an independent investigation and certainly have not offered money to pay for one.

That suggests to me that this is not about what is good for babies, but is rather about what is good for your organizations.

I do not know how you sleep. Shame on you for contributing to more confusion and lies, rather than protecting mothers and babies.