Science in Society Archive

Scientist Defends Claim of New Pathogen Linked to GM Crops

Senior scientist stands up for his claims amid storm of attacks; he deserves all our support Dr. Mae-Wan Ho

Leaked letter that took off in the internet

A letter written by emeritus professor at Purdue University Don Huber to US Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack linked genetically modified  (GM) soybeans and corn to devastating crop diseases and high rates of abortions and infertility in livestock (see I-SIS’ report [1] Emergency! Pathogen New to Science Found in Roundup Ready GM Crops? SiS 50, which attracted more than 3 000 ‘likes’ on facebook). It said the matter should be treated as an “emergency” as it could lead to “a collapse of US soy and corn export markets and significant disruption of domestic food and feed supplies.”

Monsanto lost no time in trying to discredit Huber [2]; and though many scientists have come out in his defence. Huber was criticised for providing no scientific evidence for his claims, nor did he identify the team of researchers that have discovered the pathogen (for fear of compromising their career than anything else).

Bob Hartzler, an Iowa State University agronomy professor, dismissed Huber’s claims, and told Associated Press that the letter was [3] “extremely unusual, especially coming from the scientific community.”

But Huber insisted that the organism that raised his concern was found in much higher concentrations in corn and soybeans grown from Roundup Ready seeds than in grains grown from conventional seed (although the samples of conventional crops tested were too small to get a reliable result). He believes the pathogen has made GM soybeans more susceptible to sudden death syndrome and corn to Goss’ wilt; and reaffirmed his suspicion that it is linked to spontaneous abortions and infertility in livestock fed on the GM crops.

He said he wrote the letter to Vilsack because he thought the US Department of Agriculture needed to “take immediate action and provide resources to further research his claims”, but does not know how the letter got circulated. The letter (dated 17 January 2011) was sent through a third party to be hand-delivered to Vilsack.

The USDA acknowledged it had received the letter. When asked by Associated Press, USDA stated that “we do not respond to third-party letters,” and declined to comment further.

Huber, who now lives in Melba, Idaho, said he began his research at Purdue and continued it in collaboration with other scientists in the Midwest, Florida, Brazil and Canada after retiring in 2006. He would not name the other scientists, saying they asked to remain anonymous because the attention would “distract from the research.”

The USDA has ignored Huber’s warnings. It deregulated alfalfa on 27 January, and in February deregulated sugar beets, both genetically modified to tolerate Roundup.

Huber stands by his claims

Huber, 76, emeritus soil researcher and retired US Army colonel who served as an intelligence analyst for 41 years, stands by his claims. In a three-hour talk to a gathering of 80 farmers, he began by telling the congregation that he has been married for 52 years with 11 children, 36 grandchildren, and a great-grandchild on the way [4]. He then launched into a highly technical seminar on industrial agriculture, genetic engineering, and the widespread use of herbicides, especially glyphosate and Roundup (Monsanto’s formulation), and the evidence of the herbicide’s toxicity to both plants and animals. More than 155 million acres of cropland were treated with glyphosate during the 2008 growing season, and more by now.

He told his audience that glyphosate compromises plant defence mechanisms and increases their susceptibility to disease. It reduces the availability and uptake of essential nutrients, and increases the virulence of pathogens that attack plants. All that was documented in more than a hundred papers published in peer-reviewed scientific journals (see  [5] Scientists Reveal Glyphosate Poisons Crops and Soil and other articles in the series, SiS 47).

Finally, Huber reported on the newly discovered pathogen, which, while not new to the environment, is new to science. The pathogen apparently increases in soil treated with glyphosate, and is then taken up by plants, transmitted to animals via their feed, and onward to human beings by the plants and meat they consume. The pathogen is very small, and can be seen only via an electron microscope magnified 38 000 times. It has yet to be described or named, though work on that is almost complete, Huber said, and all the research data would be published in a matter of weeks.

What made Huber write to Tom Vilsack?  USDA was about to approve the unrestricted use of GM alfalfa seeds that could result in as many as 20 million more acres being sprayed with up to 23 million more pounds of toxic glyphosate herbicides each year.

Because alfalfa is pollinated by bees that fly and cross-pollinate between fields many miles apart, the biotech crop will inevitably contaminate natural and organic alfalfa. 

“I believe the threat we are facing from this pathogen is unique and of a high-risk status,” Huber wrote. “In layman’s terms, it should be treated as an emergency.” Vilsack authorized deregulation of GM alfalfa on 27 January. Immediately after that, the Center for Food Safety and Earthjustice filed a lawsuit against the USDA, charging that its approval of GM alfalfa was unlawful.

Huber needed just $25 000 to sequence the genome of the newly identified pathogen, and then to name it. But no government, university, or corporation would provide that relatively paltry sum. Finally, a private individual made the money available; by then, the lab originally keen to do the sequencing backed out as the issue had become controversial. Still, Huber persevered, and said they should be able to name the pathogen in a matter of weeks

EU president warned

A posting [6] on the Food Democracy Now website in April  contained another letter sent by Huber to the EU and UK commissions “at their request”, to provide a more detailed explanation of his letter to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.

Huber began: “I wrote the letter to Secretary Vilsack for a very simple reason: we are experiencing a large number of problems in production agriculture in the U.S. that appear to be intensified and sometimes directly related to genetically engineered (GMO) crops, and/or the products they were engineered to tolerate – especially those related to glyphosate [the active chemical in Roundup® herbicide and generic versions of this herbicide]. We have witnessed a deterioration in the plant health of corn, soybean, wheat and other crops recently with unexplained epidemics of sudden death syndrome of soybean (SDS), Goss’ wilt of corn, and take-all of small grain crops the last two years. At the same time, there has been an increasing frequency of previously unexplained animal (cattle, pig, horse, poultry) infertility and spontaneous abortions. These situations are threatening the economic viability of both crop and animal producers.”

The letter went on to say that it was the rising incidence of high infertility and spontaneous abortions in various animal species that triggered the investigations. After ruling out all previously known causes, they found the new pathogen. Detailed examination showed that it is present “in all of the cases examined to date.” A search for the source of animal infections revealed that the new organism was abundant in soybean meal and corn products. The organism appears to be compatible and synergistic with other microorganisms such as Fusarium solani fsp. glycines that causes sudden death syndrome of soybeans, and the gram positive bacterium Clavibacter michiganensis subsp. Nebraskensis that causes Goss’ wilt in corn.

Although most corn hybrids have been genetically resistant to Goss’ wilt, preliminary research in 2010 demonstrated that the application of glyphosate herbicide, or the surfactant from glyphosate formulations (Roundup) made them fully susceptible to this pathogen. This disease was common in many Midwestern US fields planted with Roundup Ready (RR) corn in 2009 and 2010, while adjacent non-GM corn had very light to no infections despite the high inoculum present in no-till crop residues. The increased Goss’ wilt in 2010 was a major contributor to the estimated loss of almost one billion bushels of corn that year in spite of generally good harvest conditions.

Increased severity of plant diseases after glyphosate application is well documented, Huber said, and, although rarely cited, the increased disease susceptibility is due to the glyphosate herbicides. The loss of disease resistance in RR sugar beets when glyphosate was applied prompted researchers at the USDA sugar beet laboratory to include a precautionary statement in their paper [7]: “Precautions need to be taken when certain soil-borne diseases are present if weed management for sugar beet is to include post-emergence glyphosate treatments.”

All these findings raise special concerns for the deregulation of RR alfalfa, which, Huber explains, “is productive in many areas only because of its genetic resistance to bacterial wilt caused by Clavibacter michiganensis subsp. insidiosum.” If the new organism is associated with the wilt disease in alfalfa as it is in corn, that would make the alfalfa also unsafe for animal feed, and their products such as milk for human consumption.

Alfalfa is the US’s most valuable forage crop and fourth most economically important crop, and its loss could “strike a mortal blow to struggling dairy and beef operations.”

Thereafter, Huber reiterated the scientific evidence that clearly indicates glyphosate’s strong chelating action that prevents the plant from absorbing essential nutrients, undermining the plant’s immune system and many other vital functions such as nutrient recycling, and nitrogen fixation; weakening the plant so it becomes highly susceptible to diseases. (See [8] Glyphosate Tolerant Crops Bring Diseases and Death, SiS 47).

Finally, Huber mentioned deleterious effects of GM crops in report from livestock producers in the US, emphasizing that replicated independent research is needed in this area, especially in light of the serious toxicological concerns raised recently that show potential human and animal toxicity from very low levels of residual glyphosate in food/feed that are many times lower than permitted in US food and feed products [9] (see [10] Ban Glyphosate Herbicides Now, SiS 43); and also the recent Indian Supreme Court’s ruling that GM egg plant’s health risk to humans needs further evaluation (see [11] Bt Brinjal Halted, SiS 46).

He wrote: “I feel I would be totally irresponsible to ignore my own research and the vast amount of published research now available that support the concerns we are seeing in production agriculture, without bringing it to the attention of the Secretary of Agriculture with a request for him to initiate the much needed independent research. Many producers can’t wait an additional 3-10 years for someone to find the funds and neutral environment to conduct such critical research.”

Huber attached in addition, a letter to the US Environment Protection Agency sent by 26 “leading corn insect scientists working at public research institutions located in 16 corn producing states” complaining that the “Technology/stewardship agreements” imposed by biotech companies like Monsanto are preventing access to GM seeds and inhibiting their research. As a result, “data flowing to an EPA Scientific Advisory Panel from the public sector is unduly limited.” This says it all. Corporations have a stranglehold on scientific research and the flow of scientific information (see [12] Corporate Monopoly of Science, SiS 42).

 Huber is a leader among the growing ranks of honest scientists desperate to reclaim science for the public good, and deserves all our support. As I have indicated, Huber is alerting us to what could be the worst nightmare of genetic engineering that some scientists have been warning for years [13] (see Genetic Engineering Dream or Nightmare, ISIS publication): the unintended creation of new pathogens through assisted horizontal gene transfer and recombination. This issue is very much alive today, despite years of denial and suppression from proponents and regulators alike (see [14] Scientists Discover New Route for GM-gene 'Escape', SiS 50).

Article first published 21/04/11


  1. Ho MW. Emergency! Pathogen new to science found in Roundup Ready GM crops? Science in Society 50 (to appear)
  2. “Monsanto begins smear campaign on Huber”, Paul Tukey, Safe Lawns Blog, 26 February 2011,
  3. “Scientists question claims in biotech letter”, The Associated Press, 1 April 2011,
  4. “Monsanto is poisoning us all: famous scientist, Don Huber exposes hazards of Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide”, Steven McFadden, 29 March 2011,
  5. Ho MW. Scientists reveal glyphosate poisons crops & soil. GM meltdown continues. Science in Society 47, 10-11, 2010.
  6. “Professor Don Huber's cover letter to the EU and UK commissions”, Food Democracy Now,
    Posted by Lisa on 6 April 2011,
  7. Larsen RL, Hill AL, Fenwick A, Kniss AR, Hanson LE, and Miller SD. Influence of glyphosate on Rhizoctonia and Fusarium root rot in sugar beet. Pest Manag Sci 2006. 62, 1182-92.
  8. Ho MW and Cherry B. Glyphosate tolerant crops bring diseases and death. Science in Society 47.12-15, 2010.
  9. Seralini G-E, Mesnage R, Clair E, Gress S, de Vendomois JS, Cellier D. 2011. Genetically modified crops safety assessments: present limits and possible improvements. Environ Sci Europe 2011, 23, 10-20.
  10. Ho MW. Ban glyphosate herbicides now. Science in Society 43, 34-35, 2009.
  11. Ho MW. Bt brinjal halted. Science in Society 46, 22, 2010.
  12. Saunders PT. Corporate monopoly of science. Science in Society 42. 12-13, 2009.
  13. Ho MW. Genetic Engineering Dream of Nightmare? The Brave New World of Bad Science and Big Business, Third World Network, Gateway Books, MacMillan, Continuum, Penang, Malaysia, Bath, UK, Dublin, Ireland, New York, USA, 1998, 1999, 2007 (reprint with extended Introduction).
  14. Ho MW. Scientists discover new route for GM-gene “escape”. Science in Society 50 (to appear).

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There are 8 comments on this article so far. Add your comment above.

ken bebensee Comment left 22nd April 2011 19:07:25
lets have a petition to the USDA to fund more research on this.

J. Friedman Comment left 22nd April 2011 19:07:21
It's a travisty that the greed and unethical practices of Monsanto and a few other chemical companies take priority over truth and honesty that would protect our environment and all living creatures on our planet. Monsanto should be brought before a criminal court and charged with fraud, embezzelment and man-slaughter. They should be put away and fed their own roundUp ready crops and all the GMo products that belong to them by their own patents. They should not be allowed to harm any human or animal again. This is the worst case of "AMERICAN GREED"

David Llewellyn Foster Comment left 23rd April 2011 02:02:06
Sadly, the corporate cabal of power-crazed chemical giants will not engage in reasonable, legitimate dialogue. This is substance abuse on the grandest scale. It will either require catastrophic events to hasten the necessary changes, or - providing the appropriate legal instruments of environmental law can be effectively deployed - the more desirable and expedient measure, of bringing these piratical predators to book through the ICC. The world needs really effective mechanisms to enforce international law especially with respect to the abuse of nature and natural systems. If we do not declare this our most urgent and highest priority, civilization as we know it will descend into ecological anarchy. I dare say everyone is familiar with the excellent French film "the World according to Monsanto" but also highly recommended is "the Idiot Cycle" another very controversial (Canadian) documentary, not yet freely available, but screened recently on Russia Today.

Stephanie DeJong Comment left 23rd April 2011 20:08:42
Woe unto the world because of offences! for it must needs be that offences come; but woe to that man by whom the offence cometh! Matthew 18:7

Todd Millions Comment left 24th April 2011 20:08:29
Thanx for the update on this very interesting matter.I'm still unable too confirm that the Viseck desision too approve the GM sugar beet and alfafa-was ordered by the changeling himself.Not that the duplicitious swine in the whitehouse wouldn't be capble of this but why with this matter?If it is indeed the case.I should also be interested in the corprate sugar mafias who WANT the roundup resistant beets.All the weeds that are pulled up with the sugar beets I'm aware of,seperate very easily from the sorting equipment.Indeed the worst one-horse radish is a valuable by-crop.Surely a organic version of"hutterite viagra",would be even more so.

Lisa Comment left 13th May 2011 18:06:52
Have you heard the latest news? Monsanto is trying to take over public NPR.... on marketplace.

John Fryer Comment left 5th June 2011 23:11:01
Shiploads of GMO soya/soja enter Britanny ports every week. France has a ban on growing GMO/OGM crops but not it seems on importing GMO for biscuits, cakes, chocolate, or animal foods etc etc. Trillions of meals eaten with absolutely no harm and sadly absolutely no knowledge to most Europeans when and where we get GMO meals. Excuse me while I sort out a little BLEEDING problem. It is one big LIE. While all this goes on animals here are dying from a new BLEEDING disorder. And in North Germany - home to the new GMO potato - people are dying like flies or should that be pestisential insects feeding on GMO soya, GMO potatoes, GMO beer et al. Is there a connection between insects dying from gut disorders and bleeding and these humans dying like flies from exactly the same demise? Bt toxins and E Coli once harmless have been genetically changed into something to be FEARED. One thing that seems OFF LIMITS in the unrelentless hunt for the culprit killer is GMO and in John Dalli's hands author of much new approved GMO products we should expect this to be the small tip of one big problem. So what makes John Dalli the chief investigator into harm. And what makes John Dalli qualified to say dangerous GMO products should ever get permission to kill Europeans?

Harold Titsonbeli,sr Comment left 17th October 2012 05:05:07
Please post more stats on bleeding disorder,may be helpful.Take care mates,Harry