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Urine testing for pesticides: new dodgy science straight out of France

Bill Wirtz
December 20, 2019

Policy analyst Bill Wirtz says, a new technique of bogus science is making its rounds in Europe — and is setting a problematic precedent for upcoming scientific innovations.

If you've never heard of "glyphosate pissers," then picking up French newspapers will take you on a wild ride. As the glyphosate debate captivatestalking heads in Europe – a saturated amount of activists in lieu of scientists – French environmentalists have taken their assassination of the weedkiller one step further.

Since April 2018, 5,500 farmers have found glyphosate in their urine at levels above the average allowed in drinking water, which is 0.1 na/ml. "Only three participants scored below this average," a 66-year-old environmentalist activist told the French newspaper Libération. These activists have convinced French farmers that there could potentially be big money in the effort to sue pesticide producers. Nothing could be more appealing than trying to replicate million-dollar lawsuits as those scraped together in the United States.

Over 1,500 complaints of "glyphosate pissers" have been filed for "endangering the lives of others," "aggravated deception" and "environmental damage".

A few hundred Euros, the environmentalists who organise these lawsuits say, would cover both the costs of the lab testing "and the presence of a bailiff to certify the results," since nothing screams unbiased scientific research more than bringing your lawyer to the lab. On its website, the French campaign group "Campagne glyphosate" says that 100% of the tests have tested positive for glyphosate. No risks at all, dear farmers, just sign here.

If the 100% figure rings a bell, then you'd be right in feeling reminded, as Gil Rivière-Wekstein, editor of the French agriculture media outlet "agriculture & environment" points out in an editorial.

In June 2015, the German Green Party had 16 samples of breast milk analysed in Germany, with 100% positive results for glyphosate. The story was in the news across the Rhine, triggering a wave of panic among breastfeeding mothers. Curious.

Shortly after that, 2000 urine samples from German citizens were analysed as part of the "Urinale," a campaign led by the anti-pesticide association Bürgerinitiative Landwende. This time, 99.6% of the results were positive. So close, yet so far.

In May 2016, the Green Group in the European Parliament had the urine of 48 MEPs (Members of the European Parliament) tested, again with 100% positive results. Shocking.

In March 2017, 27 urine samples were analysed from Danish mothers and children, again with 100% positive results. You get the gist.

Heavily involved in the current tests is a research lab called BioCheck, based in Germany and founded in 1997 by Monika Krüger. Madame Krüger is herself an anti-pesticide activist. Not necessarily the right pre-condition for a sound and objective researcher.

In fact, their results have already been debunked. Remember the 16 samples of breast milk that were 100% contaminated? The German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) affirmed that there was no evidence whatsoever that proved that glyphosate levels in breast milk were above the legal limits. The two independent studies that the BhR commissioned were put together in an article for the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. They used liquid chromatography coupled with mass spectrometry (LC-MS/MS) or gas chromatography coupled with mass spectrometry (GC-MS/MS) – processes that are, according to the risk assessment institute, 10 times more trustworthy than regular tests for detecting pesticides, and 75 times more trustworthy than those used by BioCheck. 

BioCheck had been employing the ELISA test to reach its conclusions. This enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay is a test that detects and measures antibodies in your blood. The German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment said that detecting glyphosate in itself is a fundamentally complicated endeavour, and that the ELISA is not an adequate way of going about finding it. Marcel Kuntz, Research Director at the CNRS (Centre national de la recherche scientifique) in Grenoble, also confirms that ELISA not an accurate test to detect pesticides.

That's probably why BioCheck charged a mere €75 for their urine tests. You always get what you pay for.

Headlines like "Results of Glyphosate Pee Test Are in 'And It's Not Good News" have already been written and published, without retraction, so what's the big deal? The problem is that we are looking at a thorough perversion of the scientific method. 

In easy swipes, years of technological innovation in agriculture are thrown overboard for the convenience of political ideologues. We know that glyphosate is safe: when looking through the scientific literature, we see that it is a herbicide that is safe to use, and necessary for modern agriculture. Scare stories about "toxic residues" in our body are supposed to make us anxious and suspicious,with unfortunate success. Many governments are succumbing to the pressure, and have introduced bans products at the expense of both farmers and consumers.

To these activists, re-considering more exhaustive testing isn't of interest. They would rather pursue fanatic unproven convictions for special interests to use in the world  of lawsuits. That's a shame.

Bill Wirtz is a policy analyst for the Consumer Choice Center. He has written for Newsweek, the Washington Examiner, City AM, RealClear, The Daily Caller and CapX.
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