Roundup Safety Data Relied on by EPA is Flawed and Outdated, Scientists Says

Two prominent doctors are calling for federal regulators to review the safety of Roundup and other glyphosate-based herbicides, indicating that new information about the potential risks to human health make the data previously relied on by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) outdated. 

The EPA has previously given glyphosate a clean bill of health in the past, but the doctors indicate that the agency relied on flawed Roundup safety data.

In an editorial in the New England Journal of Medicine on August 26, the two doctors, Philip J. Landrigan and Charles Benbrook, raised questions about the overall safety of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and crops, and called for a new assessment of Roundup and glyphosate.

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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.

The EPA announced in April that it plans to address the safety concerns of glyphosate during the regular EPA safety review hearing at some point in the near future.

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.

Landrigan, the Dean for Global Health at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York and a leading pediatrician, and Benbrook, who works as an adjunct professor in the crops and soil science department at Washington State University, warn that glyphosate is overused in the U.S. and there is mounting evidence that it is unsafe. What’s more, they say that Monsanto’s creation of herbicide-resistant crops, then marketed as “Roundup Ready” has made the U.S. overly reliant on their products.

“These ‘Roundup-Ready’ crops now account for more than 90% of the corn and soybeans planted in the United States. Their advantage, especially in the first years after introduction, is that they greatly simplify weed management,” the doctors noted. “But widespread adoption of herbicide-resistant crops has led to overreliance on herbicides and, in particular, glyphosate.”

The doctors note that glyphosate use in the U.S. has increased by a factor of more than 350, from 0.4 million kilograms (kg) to 113 million kg from 1974 to 2014. Global use has increased tenfold.

“[T]he National Toxicology Program should urgently assess the toxicology of pure glyphosate, formulated glyphosate, and mixtures of glyphosate and other herbicides,” they wrote.

Of particular concern to the doctors was last year’s EPA approval of Enlist Duo, a new formulation of glyphosate which includes the chemical 2,4-D, which was a component in the Agent Orange defoliant used during the Vietnam War which has sense been linked to a number of illnesses that affected veterans of that conflict.

The doctors called the science behind the EPA’s approval flawed and noted that 2, 4-D is listed as a possible human carcinogen, and now glyphosate is considered a probable human carcinogen, raising serious questions about the safety of Enlist Duo.

Image Credit: Photo Courtesy of Mike Mozart via Flickr Creative Commons

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