An MIT computer scientist with no expertise in agriculture, chemistry, toxicology, or the biological sciences. And yet for some reason, Stephanie Seneff has decided that genetically modified foods are the tools of the devil and that glyphosate (Roundup), the herbicide used to kill weeds in fields of crops that have been genetically modified to resist it, is responsible for many of society’s ailments. She claims that exposure to glyphosate causes autism and attempts to prove this by flashing a graph showing that an increase in the incidence of autism parallels an increase in the sales of glyphosate. Confusing correlation with cause and effect is such a fundamental error that anyone who builds a case in this fashion can immediately be discounted as a reliable scientist. Autism rates have also increased in step with an increase in vegetarian diets, yet nobody is claiming that vegetables cause autism. Nor are they claiming that ice cream causes boating accidents and yet both of those increase in the summer months.
For years Seneff has tried to make a global name for herself by becoming the people's champion, a knight clad in shining armour, riding a white horse into battle against an agricultural industry that only cares about profits. She has been widely criticized for her abuse of science but her recent diatribe is truly comedic. She is riding the coattails of COVID-19 in a ludicrous attempt to implicate glyphosate as a factor in the disease. How? By trying to forge an absurd connection between biofuels and COVID-19! The biofuel in question is ethanol, produced by the fermentation of plant products, mostly corn, which is added to gasoline and aviation fuel to reduce reliance on petroleum. Ethanol is not only a renewable resource, but it also burns more cleanly than gasoline, reducing air pollution.
Seneff's thesis is that the genetically modified corn used to produce ethanol has been sprayed with glyphosate and that the chemical is, therefore, present in the gasoline to which the ethanol is added. When the fuel burns, the glyphosate is aerosolized, and when inhaled, affects the immune system resulting in the "cytokine storm" that characterizes some cases of COVID-19. What is her evidence? She preposterously introduces the case of a couple in their 70s, Robert and Elizabeth Mar, who both died from the disease. In her words: “The Mars’ were both in their 70s, so they match the profile of increased susceptibility due to older age. But perhaps a more significant factor was the fact that their restaurant was located just a few blocks from Interstate 5, an 8-lane highway where trucks, buses, and cars passed by all day long, spewing out toxic exhaust fumes.”
Glyphosate decomposes at 187 °C, a fact that Seneff could easily have looked up. Not only is it nonsensical to suggest that glyphosate survives combustion, but there is also no evidence that it is ever found in ethanol. And is there any evidence that glyphosate has any effect on adaptive immunity, as she claims? Here she brings up the example of a farmer who tried to commit suicide by drinking a cup of a glyphosate-containing herbicide and developed a precipitous drop in blood pressure along with hypoxia, respiratory distress, and acute pulmonary edema. No great surprise there, but drinking a toxic amount of glyphosate is hardly a model for inhaling trace amounts from the air, should these actually be present.
Then Seneff invites further scientific ridicule by claiming that glyphosate runoff from agricultural fields plays a role in the outcome of coronavirus infection. The Yangtze River runs through Wuhan and is highly polluted from runoff and this, she claims, results in glyphosate in the surrounding air which in turn affects the immune system. This is what caused the coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan to have such disastrous effects. Has anyone ever found glyphosate, a non-volatile compound, in the air around water systems? No. She goes on to point the finger at hotspots like New York, New Orleans, and Seattle, arguing that the Hudson River, the Mississippi, and water around Seattle are sources of glyphosate. Never mind that cities with major population densities tend to be located around major waterways and crowding is the reason for transmission of infection.
What about Italy, a country that does not grow genetically modified crops, as a hotspot? Seneff has another unintelligent explanation here. “Italy has developed a technology that involves gathering used olive oil from restaurants and converting it into biodiesel fuel. While Italy does not allow GMO crops, glyphosate is used routinely to control the weeds growing around the olive trees.” So, according to her, the Italians’ love of olives plays a role in the spread of COVID-19. And Russia? Fewer cases. Why? Because, according to this champion of science, they don’t use biofuels. Never mind that Russian reporting is notoriously suspect.
There is still more. Seneff goes on to stuff another load of bunkum into her giant pile of pseudoscientific claims. She proposes that the lung problems associated with vaping are also caused by glyphosate. How so? Propylene glycol and glycerol are components of the vaping mixture in e-cigarettes and they are sourced from waste from biofuel production. Indeed, glycerol is a byproduct of biofuel production, but it is also commonly sourced from animal tallow. It can be converted into propylene glycol, although the main production method of propylene glycol is from propene. In any case, no glyphosate has ever been detected in vaping mixtures, but even if it were present, it would of course not survive combustion! As if she had not blown enough hot air, she then marshals vitamin E acetate into the dock. Seneff knows why this compound is suspected of being responsible for some of the lung problems encountered by vaping. What other scientists have missed is that vitamin E is commonly sourced from soybean oil, “probably from GMO “Roundup-ready” soybeans, and is therefore contaminated with glyphosate! Any evidence for this? Zero.
What we have here is a series of laughable arguments that represent an illness sometimes seen among scientists who are wedded to a theory they have formulated and will try to fit square pegs into round holes to prove they were correct. In this case, in a sense, that illness is caused by glyphosate.