On November 27, 2017, the European Union (EU) agreed on a five-year renewal period for glyphosate, an herbicide used in the Monsanto product Roundup. The agreement followed a petition to ban glyphosate due to controversial studies stating that it could be carcinogenic.
Approved by more than 160 countries, glyphosate accounts for approximately 25% of the global herbicide market. However, in March 2015, World Health Organization (WHO) announced that glyphosate is probably carcinogenic to humans. The study, carried out by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) places glyphosate into group 2A because the herbicide is linked to tumors in mice and rats and it classifies as mechanistic evidence, which means that they have seen DNA damage to human cells from exposure to glyphosate.
Upon immediate-release of the statement, Monsanto accused the IARC of cherry-picking data. Shortly after Monsanto’s protest, the international academic publisher, Taylor & Francis, published a review in Critical Reviews in Toxicology, titled A review of the carcinogenic potential of glyphosate by four independent expert panels and comparison to the IARC assessment. In this study, experts defend the safety of glyphosate. The experts stated, “With respect to exposure, even when using a number of worst-case assumptions, systemic doses of glyphosate in human applicators, bystanders, and the general public are very small.” The review also cites a study by Kier and Kirkland stating that glyphosate has no structural alerts for chromosomal damage, genotoxicity, mutagenicity, or carcinogenicity.
However, after these experts released this independent review, four scientists from the Center for Biological Diversity, the Center for Food Safety, the Pesticide Action Network North America, and the Center for Environmental Health delivered a letter to the editors of Critical Reviews in Toxicology. They state, “Taylor & Francis has an obligation to maintain the scientific integrity of its journals.” These scientists requested that the editors of Critical Reviews in Toxicology retract the expert paper for misconduct because Intertek, a consulting firm hired by Monsanto, oversaw the independent review.
Additionally, IARC defended their original study, stating that even though there is limited evidence for a link to cancer, studies show that people who work with the herbicide are at risk of Non-Hodgkin lymphoma. An additional study in the Journal of National Cancer Institute in November 2017 by the Agricultural Health Study, shows there is an increased risk of Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML) among those who are highly exposed to glyphosate.
It appears as though these hazardous studies provide varying results depending on the organization that is funding the research. Through careful evaluation, we can follow the money trail to those who seek to undermine the reputation and findings of IARC and other scientists who study the hazards of glyphosate. Monsanto is now sending out subpoenas and legally pressuring U.S. scientists who serve on the IARC panel to turn over their meeting notes to Monsanto. As Jennifer Sass, senior scientist for National Resources Defense Council points out, “People who care about protecting public health and the environment should watch out for well-funded attempts by Monsanto to undermine IARC and its findings.”
The EU has made their final decision based on wildly varying reports. Farmers will continue to use Monsanto’s glyphosate on crops, despite the IARC’s efforts to show the dangers of this herbicide. For five more years, Monsanto will continue to contaminate our food and expose farmers to a higher risk of cancer. Unfortunately, with this ruling, the damage of glyphosate will be inescapable, and the affront to human life will continue.