Roundup Herbicide Cancer Risk Reviewed by Monsanto’s Controversial Panel
A panel of scientists and academics hired by Monsanto have reached an unsurprising conclusion after evaluating the potential human health side effects of the herbicide Roundup, indicating that they disagree with the finding of independent researchers associated with the World Health Organization (WHO), who determined earlier this year that the chemical glyphosate found in Roundup is a probable human carcinogen.
A group of 16 industry scientists and academics presented the findings of their evaluation this week at the annual meeting for the Society for Risk Assessment, after being pulled together by Monsanto in response to questions about the safety of their widely used herbicide and weed killer.
In March, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), an arm of the World Health Organization (WHO), announced that the herbicide glyphosate probably causes cancer in humans. The designation has raised questions about the safety of Monsanto’s Roundup, and outraged the agricultural industry giant.
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Monsanto has said that the IARC’s conclusions were agenda-driven and based on “junk science,” and previously indicated that it would convene this panel to review the Roundup herbicide cancer risks. While the findings of this panel were presented this week, they have not been peer-reviewed or published in a medical journal to date.
The review was run by Intertek Scientific & Regulatory Consultancy, consisting of 16 industry consultants and researchers, 12 of whom have consulted for Monsanto in the past, including two former employees. The panel’s findings are exactly in line with Monsanto’s position, claiming that glyphosate is safe and that the IARC study’s findings were groundless.
The panel has been seen by many as attempt by Monsanto to protect their blockbuster product, and defend against a growing number of Roundup herbicide lawsuits filed in recent months by individuals diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma or other cancers following heavy exposure to glyphosate.
Roundup Safety Concerns
Roundup was introduced by Monsanto in the 1970s, and has grown to become one of the most widely used herbicides in the world, generating billions in annual revenue for the global agrochemical and agricultural biotechnology company.
A recent report on glyphosate usage by the U.S. Geological Survey found that an estimated 2.6 billion pounds of the herbicide has been used on America’s agricultural land over the two decades since the mid-1990s, when Monsanto introduced “Roundup Ready” crops that are designed to survive being sprayed with glyphosate, killing the weeds but not the crops.
Genetically modified crops, such as corn and soybean, are branded as being “Roundup Ready.” However, as some weeds have developed resistance to glyphosate, it has forced farmers to use higher and higher quantities of Roundup.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has previously indicated that Roundup is safe, but that determination has been the subject of growing criticism and the agency is reportedly planning to re-address glyphosate safety in the coming months.
Some critics have indicated that the the EPA’s prior determination that glyphosate herbicides are not endocrine disruptors was based almost entirely on data provided by Monsanto and others within the industry, ignoring independent safety data.
European regulators recently indicated that they believe it is unlikely that side effects of Roundup cause cancer, but did recommend an exposure threshold for human safety, and proposed new controls to keep the chemical’s residue out of food.
That decision by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) in November has also been highly criticized by independent researchers and academics.
In an open letter (PDF) issued on November 27 to Vytenis Andriukaitis, commissioner of Health and Food Safety at the European Commission, 90 independent and government scientists called on the European Union to accept the IARC’s findings and criticized the EFSA’s conclusions.
“We reviewed these two differing decisions on the human carcinogenicity of glyphosate and conclude that the IARC WG (working group) decision is by far the more credible,” the letter states. “The IARC WG decision was reached relying on open and transparent procedures by independent scientists who completed thorough conflict-of-interest statements and were not affiliated or financially supported in any way by the chemical manufacturing industry. It is fully referenced and depends entirely on reports published in the open, peer-reviewed biomedical literature.”
It is anticipated that the Monsanto-hired researchers’ findings will be viewed in a similar manner by many independent researchers, particularly since the panel returned exactly the results the herbicide manufacturer would want, after being paid by Monsanto.
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