A Perfect Example of Conflict of Interest in the Scientific Community, Glyphosate Research

The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) is perhaps one of the most notable and distinguished scientific societies in the world, publishes several esteemed scientific journals, including Science, and presents an annual award for Scientific Freedom and Responsibility to “scientists, engineers or their organizations, whose exemplary actions have demonstrated scientific freedom and responsibility in challenging circumstances” [1].

One would assume “scientific freedom” means scientific freedom, but that does not seem to be the case when a study goes against the flow of mainstream science.

For the 2019 award, two researchers were slated to be presented with the reward who published papers linking glyphosate exposure to chronic kidney disease of unknown etiology (CKDu) in Sri Lankan farmers. The two researchers were Dr. Sarath Gunatilake and Channa Jayasumana, Ph.D.

Dr. Sarath Gunatilake is a Public Health physician who is American Board certified in Public Health and Preventive Medicine in Occupational Medicine [2].

Channa Jayasumana, Ph.D. is a faculty member of Medicine and Allied Sciences at the Rajarata University of Sri Lanka, who researches nephrotoxins (kidney toxins) and the causes and treatments for chronic kidney disease [3].

The paper they published was titled “Glyphosate, Hard Water and Nephrotoxic Metals: Are They the Culprits Behind the Epidemic of Chronic Kidney Disease of Unknown Etiology in Sri Lanka?” and was published in 2014, and was followed by two more papers entitled “Simultaneous Exposure to Multiple Heavy Metals and Glyphosate May Contribute to Sri Lankan Agricultural Nephropathy” and “Drinking Well Water and Occupational Exposure to Herbicides Is Associated With Chronic Kidney Disease in Padavi-Sri Pura, Sri Lanka” which were published in 2015 [4] [5] [6].

These papers researched the toxicity of herbicides and glyphosate, and in the third paper listed, the researchers found people who drank water from wells where glyphosate and heavy metal concentrations are higher had a fivefold increased risk of CKDu. The award winners were outspoken critics of glyphosate-based herbicides and specifically highlighted the dangers of herbicide adjuvants.

In a 2018 article, Dr. Sarath Gunatilake stated the following:

"The point I'm trying to raise is that glyphosate without adjuvants is not very useful. Therefore, manufacturers have added these toxic chemicals into glyphosate and nobody is talking about them! Over the last 25 years, the pesticide industry had us hoodwinked by referring only to glyphosate and not to the adjuvants or additives included in these herbicides." [7]

Also, Channa Jayasumana, Ph.D. stated at the yearlong International Monsanto Tribunal that glyphosate has resulted in ecocide, the destruction of an ecosystem due to human activities such as dumping harmful chemicals [8] [9].

In AAAS’ February 4, 2019 press release, the association stated Gunatilake and Jayasumana “faced death threats and claims of research misconduct while working to determine the cause of a kidney disease epidemic that has claimed tens of thousands of lives in their home country of Sri Lanka and around the world. Ultimately, their advocacy led to the culprit, an herbicide called glyphosate, being banned in several affected countries” [10].

Jessica Wyndham, director of the AAAS Scientific Responsibility, Human Rights and Law Program, said the following:

"To right a wrong when significant financial interests are at stake and the power imbalance between industry and individual is at play takes the unique combination of scientific rigor, professional persistence and acceptance of personal risk demonstrated by the two scientists recognized by this year's award." [11]

As expected though, this paper received loads of controversy because it goes against the grain of mainstream science.

Kevin Folts, a pro-GMO University of Florida professor who was caught intentionally hiding his funding from Monsanto, stated the paper merely “presented a hypothesis. There were no data. There were no experiments. It was a semi-well-crafted hypothesis that could be tested” [12].

However, GMWatch.org gave the following rebuttal to Folta’s claims:

"Folta's claim that there are 'no data' in the paper is false. There are plenty of data in this and the authors' follow-up papers — from epidemiological and case-control studies, as well as geographical surveys — that support the idea that glyphosate herbicides should be withdrawn from use as a precautionary measure until they can be proven safe.

Are these data conclusive? No. They point to an association. It's true that the link between glyphosate exposure and chronic kidney disease will always remain a 'hypothesis' until it is proven in controlled long-term animal feeding studies …

The truth is that they are unlikely to be done, due to the massive expense and the unwillingness of industry and governments to fund studies that could show that they were responsible for exposing people to poisons over many years." [13].

This scenario presents this question: Should the Scientific Freedom Award be revoked because of controversial findings?

Though Gunatilake and Jayasumana's theory is one of the dozens of hypotheses for what may be causing chronic CKDu, it does not seem one single theory can explain it all [14] [15] [16].

Jack Heinemann, a professor at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand, researches topics including horizontal gene transfer, GMO risk assessment, conflicts of interest in research and sustainable agriculture [17]. Heinemann came to the defense of Gunatilake and Jayasumana in a tweet saying the following:

"Whether or not the link between glyphosate (or formulation) and kidney disease is right misses the point. A scientific freedom award is given for persecution. If you only give it for proven science, it would be delayed decades and it would only benefit those who persecute." [18]

Even when reading the researchers’ conclusions, they come across very cautious while describing the link between glyphosate and CKDu:

"A strong association between the consumption of hard water and the occurrence of this special kidney disease has been observed, but the relationship has not been explained consistently. Here, we have hypothesized the association of using glyphosate, the most widely used herbicide in the disease endemic area and its unique metal chelating properties.

The possible role played by glyphosate-metal complexes in this epidemic has not been given any serious consideration by investigators for the last two decades … Although glyphosate alone does not cause an epidemic of chronic kidney disease, it seems to have acquired the ability to destroy the renal tissues … when it forms complexes with a localized geo environmental factor (hardness) and nephrotoxic metals." [19]

This scenario is not the first time the AAAS has exhibited symptoms of conflict of interest. Science journalist Paul D. Thacker, a journalist and consultant to nonprofits with no ties to the GMO industry, pointed out links between former AAAS president Nina Fedoroff and the biotech industry, which has become known for pressuring medical journals and alike organizations to revoke and discredit undesirable research and journalism [20] [21].

Additionally, GM Watch notes the following:

"The AAAS has a mixed record when it comes to public interest issues. In 2013 the AAAS' board of directors issued a statement opposing the labeling of GM foods in the U.S. … The AAAS was at the time chaired by Nina Fedoroff, who has close ties to the GMO industry.

But in an incident that showed that the AAAS is not monolithic but contains scientists who do not toe the GMO lobby's line, a group of scientists and physicians that included many long-standing AAAS members condemned the AAAS board of directors' statement as 'an Orwellian argument that violates the right of consumers to make informed decisions.'

They pointed to evidence showing that Roundup, the herbicide used on most GM crops, could pose risks that consumers might reasonably want to avoid. Sadly, the AAAS board seems more likely than its membership to have the power to decide on the fate of the award that was to be given to the Sri Lankan scientists." [22]

This scenario is just one example of the many conflicts of interest in the scientific community. Since large corporations fund most scientific research, most scientific research seems to support those corporations and their activities.

Another conflict of interest involves the CDC and vaccine manufacturing companies. To read more about that, click here.



[1] https://www.aaas.org/page/aaas-award-scientific-freedom-and-responsibility-0

[2] https://web.csulb.edu/colleges/chhs/departments/health-science/faculty-profiles/SarathGunatilakeDr.P.H.M.D..htm

[3] https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Channa_Jayasumana

[4] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3945589/

[5] https://bmcnephrol.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12882-015-0109-2

[6] https://ehjournal.biomedcentral.com/track/pdf/10.1186/1476-069X-14-6

[7] http://www.dailymirror.lk/article/Glyphosate-without-adjuvants-not-very-useful-Prof-Sarath-Gunathilake-151867.html

[8] https://en.monsantotribunal.org/upload/asset_cache/1016160509.pdf

[9] https://en.monsantotribunal.org/upload/asset_cache/1053455779.pdf?rnd=0O0Yls

[10] https://biofortified.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/2019-AAAS-Scientific-Freedom-Award.pdf

[11] https://www.aaas.org/news/global-fight-against-lethal-herbicides-earns-2019-aaas-scientific-freedom-and-responsibility - (link since rescinded)

[12] https://geneticliteracyproject.org/2019/02/05/aaas-fumble-prestigious-scientists-organization-endorses-data-less-study-suggesting-links-between-glyphosate-and-kidney-disease-in-sri-lanka/

[13] https://www.gmwatch.org/en/news/latest-news/18757-aaas-reassessing-award-to-public-interest-scientists

[14] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5362147/

[15] https://academic.oup.com/ckj/article/11/4/496/4708273

[16] https://ehjournal.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12940-017-0254-0?fbclid=IwAR0NMfMwHIz3wrtZQe51T-792RPLOfisS5-2Qeiw8MBRpAvGTubSNkVMwSk

[17] https://www.canterbury.ac.nz/science/contact-us/people/jack-heinemann.html

[18] https://twitter.com/Jack_Heinemann/status/1093929931413819392

[19] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3945589/

[20] https://www.cjr.org/author/paul-d-thacker/

[21] https://progressive.org/magazine/how-the-biotech-industry-cultivates-positive-media/

[22] https://www.gmwatch.org/en/news/latest-news/18757