Pearl Snaps

Stories of a cowgirl living life by her own lights

Spontaneous abortions, infertility, and other extraordinary claims


by Jesse Bussard

There’s been an article flying around my agricultural social media streams this week that really concerns me. This article states some pretty outrageous claims made by a Dr. Don Huber in a letter to USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack linking what claims to be a “dangerous new pathogen” with the use of Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide, also known as glyphosate.

Many may not remember but the letter actually surfaced over a year ago. Because of it’s outrageous nature and extraordinary claims it immediately got a lot of attention. Many in the organic and anti-GMO camp took hold of the claims and used them as another means to justify their agenda.

The claims made in this letter are concerning but no evidence of the pathogen’s existence or the claims of it’s negative effects on plants or livestock has yet to be found scientifically. As a scientist myself, I find outlandish claims like this with only anecdotal evidence to be suspicious and until someone can show me concrete cited evidence that these issues do exist, I will be skeptical.

You can read responses to these Dr. Huber’s claims by agricultural scientists here:

Monsanto also released their own responses here and here.

I am not going to reiterate what already has been said by others about the evidence against these claims. However, I would like to address the claims that Huber makes directed towards cattle.

Huber claims there is an “escalating frequency of infertility and spontaneous abortions over the past few years in US cattle, dairy, swine, and horse operations. These include recent reports of infertility rates in dairy heifers of over 20%, and spontaneous abortions in cattle as high as 45%.”

He goes to say, “For example, 450 of 1,000 pregnant heifers fed wheatlage experienced spontaneous abortions. Over the same period, another 1,000 heifers from the same herd that were raised on hay had no abortions. High concentrations of the pathogen were confirmed on the wheatlage, which likely had been under weed management using glyphosate.”

I hate to burst his bubble, but if an escalating frequency of spontaneous abortions really had been occurring in livestock I am pretty sure that both livestock producers and reproductive physiologists would be aware of this. Until now, no evidence of such a problem has ever been given.

Huber’s statements of infertility rates of 20% in dairy heifers and over 40% in cattle are extreme. And if they really were the case, trust me, animal scientists would be researching like crazy to find an answer to why this was occurring and what they could do to stop it.

In reality, most cattle herds only see an abortion rate of 1-2%. If abortion rates increase to higher than 3-5% cattle producers will seek to find out why and consult their veterinarian. More info on common causes of abortion in cattle can be found here and here.  The Iowa State Veterinary Diagnostic laboratory has not shown a major trend in idiopathic (unknown causes) abortions in cattle. In 2006 only a 187 cases were reported and in 2007 only 122 cases. On cattle operations fertility rates are closely monitored. Huber’s allegations just don’t line up with the reality of the situation.

Lastly Huber references a study of 1000 pregnant heifers that were fed wheatlage where 450 of the 1000 heifers spontaneously aborted. He claims that high percentages of the pathogen were found in the wheatlage, that was “likely” under glyphosate management. Likley? So he’s not 100% sure. And no where in any of the articles that cite Huber’s letter or his claims is there any mention of a link to the actual research that obtained these findings. If there is any chance that these claims were true don’t you think they’d want to back them up with some evidence. That’s what we do in science. That’s how we show credibility. I’m sorry but I’m not buying the BS, you’re trying to sell me Dr. Huber.

In the end, all this article does is provide outlandish claims and scare tactics to further fuel the fire for the anti-GMO crowd. Until some research is cited that can prove these claims are true, I’ll remain skeptical.

As Carl Sagan said, “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.”

6 thoughts on “Spontaneous abortions, infertility, and other extraordinary claims

  1. I’m not a scientist only a farmer so my point probably doesn’t matter. Dr. Huber says the wheatlage was under glyphosate weed management. I am unaware that there is any seed wheat available with the roundup gene. If he wants to blame the abortions on glyphosate it didn’t come from the wheat.

  2. I couldn’t agree more. This letter surfaced right when I started my blog a year ago. While I won’t totally disregard all his claims, I think the jury is still out and the letter isn’t causing me to make management changes on our farm. For the time being I’ll just make a mental note of it.

    The problem lies with those in anti-GMO crowd who choose not to listen to the other side. Things like this letter are all they need to validate themselves. They can hold it up high and wave it around like a victory flag, because it pushes buttons that make them feel good.

  3. I agree, what a load of BS. We use roundup a bit. We stick to the grazing restrictions and we’ve had no problems with abortions. Just more fear mongering to get what they want. Next they’ll be attacking Grazon and 2,4-D.

    • 2,4-D attacks have begun according to the folks I visited with yesterday at Commodity Classic.

      • I can believe that. Several seed companies are set to release corn & soybean varieties that are tolerant to 2,4-D and they’re probably wanting to jump the gun on that. The funny thing is 2,4-D has been in use since the 1940s. It’s a fairly safe herbicide. Yes, they’re are a select few resistant weed biotypes but nothing like the resistance that occurred with glyphosate. If farmers just would use chemical programs like they did before Round-Up came out by changing up chemistries (i.e. modes of action) I really don’t think we’d have as much of an issue with herbicide-resistance as we do now. If there’s one thing glyphosate did, it made killing weeds a little too easy…

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