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An international group of cancer experts almost classified the active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup weed killer as a “known” human carcinogen, but ultimately rated it as a “probable” cancer causing agent instead, according to new reports.
In March, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), an arm of the World Health Organization (WHO), announced that it had determined that the herbicide glyphosate probably causes cancer in humans. The designation has raised questions about the safety of the world’s most popular weed killer, Monsanto’s Roundup, and outraged the agricultural industry giant.
In a story published this week in Harper’s Magazine, it is suggested that the weed killer may have gotten off light, as the IARC considered labeling it in the more serious “known human carcinogen” category before making its final determination. The revelation indicates that the IARC was almost certain, due to the evidence it had collected, that glyphosate is a cancer-causing agent.
Researchers with IARC say that the only thing that stopped a “known carcinogen” designation was the lack of a link in a study on Iowa and California farmers. However, they point out that the evidence against glyphosate is similar to evidence against benzene, which is now universally recognized as a cancer-causing agent. The researchers also made comparisons to tobacco, asbestos and arsenic.
Monsanto has said that the IARC’s conclusions were agenda-driven and based on “junk science,” and has said it is convening its own independent panel to review the cancer risks of Roundup, which is the most widely used weed killer in the world.
Consumer use of Roundup began to skyrocket in the mid 1990s, after Monsanto introduced genetically engineered crops to withstand treatment with Roundup, killing the weeds and not the crops. Genetically modified crops, like corn and soybean, are branded as being “Roundup Ready.” Some weeds have developed resistance to glyphosate, thus forcing farmers to use higher quantities of Roundup.
The U.S. Geological Survey estimated agricultural use of glyphosate increased drastically from 110 million pounds in 2002, now to more than 283 million pounds in 2012.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced in April that it plans to address the safety concerns of glyphosate during the regular EPA safety review hearing occurring soon. Researchers warn pesticides are commonly detected in the air, food and water near areas that have been sprayed.
Battle Over Roundup Bans
Since the IARC designation, there have been moves to ban the use of Roundup. Hawaii County, which encompasses the state’s “Big Island,” is set to vote next week on whether to ban the use of Roundup by government agencies. It would leave intact the ability of individual residents to use the herbicide.
The vote on Bill 71 was delayed following extensive testimony at an August 4 meeting, when the vote was originally scheduled. However, 45 people ended up testifying at the meeting, with the vast majority of them calling for the herbicide to be banned in Hawaii County.
Some residents testified that they had been sprayed directly with Roundup by trucks going down the road. The county itself pays $30,000 annually to buy Roundup, and the ban would stop that use entirely. It accounts for between 25-30% of herbicide use by the county.
A controversial bill recently passed in the U.S. House of Representatives, which is now pending in the Senate, could prevent states from limiting or ban the use of Roundup. The legislation, known as the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act, contains provisions which critics say would prevent proper and informative labeling of genetically modified organism (GMO) crops, and would also make it illegal to for states or counties to pass laws that regulate GMO crops, which could include the ability to decide what herbicides are sprayed on GMO fields.
France recently banned the sale of Roundup at garden centers across the country, following the WHO cancer warnings. The ban was enacted in April, and French officials said they plan to ban the use of all pesticides for home-gardening by 2022. The decision was reached one month after the findings of the IARC study were published.
A number of consumers diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma or other forms of cancer are now considering potential Roundup lawsuits against Monsanto, alleging that inadequate warnings were provided about the potential side effects of the weedkiller.