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The primary ingredient in Roundup, the controversial and widely used weed killer, may increase the risk of cancer, according to a new report by the World Health Organization.
The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), which is the cancer research arm of the World Health Organization (WHO), released a report late last week in the medical journal The Lancet Oncology, which identified five pesticides that are “probable” cancer-causing agents.
The WHO report focused on studies of pesticide exposure, mostly agricultural, in the U.S., Canada, and Sweden, published since 2001. The five pesticides the agency says are cancer-causing agents are glyphosate, tetrachlorvinphos, parathion, malathion and diazinon.
The potentially cancer-causing pesticide list was compiled by 17 experts from 11 different countries, leading to a classification as “probably carcinogenic to humans.”
Glyphosate is the main ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup product, which is the most widely used weed killer in the world. It is heavily used on corn and soybean crops that are genetically modified to survive exposure to weed killers.
The WHO report said there was “limited evidence” that glyphosate was carcinogenic in humans.
U.S. regulators say the weed killer is “considered safe.” The EPA has maintained past studies have shown no reason to restrict the chemical. In 2013, Monsanto requested approval from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for increased tolerance levels for glyphosate in food and the agency agreed.
Concerns regarding the safety of Roundup prompted a special EPA meeting last year to discuss the safety of glyphosate. The EPA heard from scientists, environmentalists and concerned mothers regarding the potential side effects of Roundup to decide on whether to place further restriction on the chemical, a decision is expected this year.
Widespread concerns beyond Roundup
A study published by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) last year revealed pesticide residue is found in half of all food in the U.S. More than 8,500 samples of fruit, vegetables, infant formula, butter, salmon, groundwater and drinking water were tested for the study. Half contained detectable levels of pesticide residue, however 23 samples exceeded EPA safe tolerance limits.
Weed killers are commonly detected in the air, food and water near areas that have been sprayed, according to the report.
A study published in 2013 revealed a link between exposure to common pesticides and an increased risk of Parkinson’s disease. The research revealed people exposed to any type of herbicide, pesticide or solvent increased a person’s risk of developing Parkinson’s disease, those living in rural areas or working in the farming industry had the highest risk.
Among the other herbicides studied, tetrachlorvinphos and parathion received strong designations as possible carcinogens. WHO found more evidence that these weed killers specifically have a cancer causing effect tin animals, with little information on the effect in people.
Both weed killers have already been restricted, tetrachlorvinphos was banned in the European Union, however it is allowed for use in livestock and pet collars in the U.S. Parathion was banned in both the U.S. and the European Union in 2003.
Malathion is used to control insects in homes and agriculture. People may be exposed through food.
Diazinon is used in limited quantities in agriculture and homes.Regulations restrict spraying in the U.S. and Europe.