Roundup Cancer Risks Probably Not Linked To Food Exposure, UN Reports

Amid continuing concerns worldwide about the link between cancer and Roundup exposure, a new report by the United Nations suggests that it is unlikely the active ingredient in Monsanto’s widely used weed killer, glyphosate, is carcinogenic due to residue left in food. However, the report does not address the herbicide’s cancer risk from exposure among farm workers, landscapers and others working directly with the chemical. 

On May 16, the UN issued a summary report (PDF) from a joint meeting between its Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) and the World Health Organization (WHO), which indicates that while there may be some risk of cancer from Roundup and other glyphosate products, particularly non-Hodgkins lymphoma (NHL), it does not appear that risk is transferred through eating food that were derived from crops treated with the weedkiller.

“Overall, there is some evidence of a positive association between glyphosate exposure and risk of NHL from the case-control studies and the overall meta-analysis,” the report notes, but also indicates that numerous tests failed to show any link to an increased cancer risk through consumption. “In view of the absence of carcinogenic potential in rodents at human-relevant doses and the absence of genotoxicity by oral route in mammals, and considering the epidemiological evidence from occupational exposures, the Meeting concluded that glyphosate is unlikely to pose a carcinogenic risk to humans from exposure through the diet.”

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The UN’s findings look almost entirely at exposure through consumption, to see if eating glyphosate-tainted food could lead to cancer. However, the meeting does not appear to have addressed concerns about the Roundup exposure risks through agricultural use spraying the product on crops.

Virtually all of the claims involving non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma from Roundup have come from workers and some home owners who were exposed to the herbicide when they used it to kill weeds, not ingestion through diet.

In March 2015, WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) declared that the popular herbicide glyphosate is likely a cancer-causing agent. The warning has resulted in increasing concerns worldwide about the potential link between Roundup and non-Hodgkins lymphoma, as well as other forms of cancer.

Monsanto has aggressively criticized the decision to list their Roundup as a human carcinogen, dismissing the IARC findings as agenda driven and based on “junk science.”

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has also conflicted with the IARC findings, declaring glyphosate to be safe. Scientists and supporters on both sides of the debate have called the processes of the other unscientific, and the European Commission has delayed the renewal of glyphosate’s license across Europe.

The commission is scheduled to meet today to discuss relicensing glyphosate products for use in Europe, and some expect that it will only relicense its use for nine years instead of the standard 15, and will apply other restrictions and requirements on its use as well.

Roundup Lawsuits In the U.S.

A recent U.S. Geological Survey on glyphosate usage nationwide found that an estimated 2.6 billion pounds of the herbicide has been sprayed 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.

In all that time, the FDA has never tested for residue or buildup in the food sold to Americans nationwide. In a report published in 2014, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) criticized the FDA for this deficiency in its pesticide program.

Monsanto now faces a growing number of Roundup cancer lawsuits in the United States, typically involving individuals diagnosed with a form of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma following heavy exposure to the herbicide as a farm or agricultural worker.

The complaints allege that plaintiffs may have avoided a cancer diagnosis if they had been warned about the Roundup risks for farmers, landscapers and others in the agricultural industry, as safety precautions could have been taken or other products could have been used to control the growth of weeds.


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