Last week, the World Health Organization’s (WHO) cancer-research arm made the announcement that glyphosate, the world’s most used herbicide, is “probably carcinogenic to humans.” The review was then sent to Lyon, France to be reviewed by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). IARC said there was little evidence that glyphosate would cause cancer in humans, but there was significant evidence in animals to classify the chemical as “probably carcinogenic to humans.” This chemical is not safe to drink.
Monsanto is attempting to discredit the WHO’s proclamation that glyphosate is a “probable carcinogen.” Monsanto wants WHO to retract the assessment all together. A Monsanto public relations person sent an email saying, “We are reaching out to the WHO to understand how, despite the wealth of existing science on glyphosate, the IARC panel could make a classification that disagrees with scientific and regulatory reviews.”
On March 23, Monsanto in St. Louis, Missouri, the company that sells most of the world’s glyphosate, pointed the finger back at the IARC, saying they were picking out data that made glyphosate look like a carcinogen. Monsanto is offended by the assessment. This is the controversy.
The IARC’s job is to review industrial chemicals, foodstuffs as well as jobs for possible carcinogens. March 20, the agency convened international experts for a panel to review the findings of five agricultural chemicals under the classification of organophosphates. A summary of this study has been published in The Lancet Oncology.
A category 2B, is a rating given to chemicals that are a “possible carcinogenic to humans.” Two pesticides, tetrachlorvinphos and parathion, were rated 2B. Malathion, diazinon, and glyphosate, were rated as 2A, meaning they are “probably carcinogenic to humans.”
Glyphosate, is used more than any other herbicide in the world. It is used widely in agriculture and it is also in garden products around the world. Glyphosate is in Monsanto’s weedkiller, Roundup, and is becoming increasingly popular as the market share of crops are being genetically engineered to be tolerant to the chemical. This chemical is not safe to drink, but it is in the food people eat.
At first glance, notes show that there is little or limited evidence linking glyphosate to cancer in humans, however, there is more. There are studies that have shown that people who work with glyphosate are at an increased risk of cancer, specifically, non-Hodgkin lymphoma. There is a separate, U.S. wide study, the Agricultural Health Study, that has not found any link to non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
However, there is more evidence to review, including animal studies. Glyphosate is linked to tumors in mice and rats and there is ‘mechanistic evidence,’ including DNA damage to human cells from exposure to the herbicide. This evidence led to the 2A classification. Senior toxicologist at the IARC, Kathryn Guyton, says the herbicide falls into group 2A because the evidence in experimental animals was enough, even though the evidence in humans is limited.
The Glyphosate Task Force, is a group of industry agrochemical companies. They believe the evaluation has deficiencies by way of the methodological approach as well as the conclusion being inconsistent with results of other reviews concerning the safety of the chemical. Monsanto is a member of the Glyphosate Task Force, and claims there is relevant scientific data showing no risk was excluded from the review. The IARC, left out a significant amount of genetic toxicity studies.
The IARC process has a very clear set of rules concerning which studies can be considered by the experts. Studies are predominately limited to peer-reviewed publications and government reports. This causes many studies to be rejected from being reviewed by the IARC.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is putting together a formal review of the safety of glyphosate. The EPA has stated that they will give full consideration to the IARC study. In the meantime, Monsanto is doing everything they can to let the public know Roundup herbicide does not cause cancer.
In an interview, Monsanto lobbyist, Dr. Patrick Moore, said that a person could “drink a quart” of Roundup and it would not hurt the person. Then, Dr. Moore was offered a glass but he refused saying that he “wasn’t stupid” and promptly ended the interview. Poison Control said that swallowing a small amount of would not affect an individual, however, drinking a quart of Roundup, which contains detergents and other chemicals, would cause an individual to vomit before they were able to drink much more than a few mouthfuls. However, Poison Control did not recommend having a glass with breakfast.
By Jeanette Smith
Photo courtesy of Mike Mozart – Flickr License