If Monsanto didn’t have enough bad news already—considering its falling stock price, reduced profits, and recent job cuts—California dealt the agribusiness giant a body blow when it announced its intention to label glyphosate (the active ingredient in RoundUp herbicide) as a carcinogen. Comments have been pouring in from health and environmental advocates, as well as from pesticide companies and their various front groups.
California is responding to increased research on the popular herbicide that shows glyphosate to be “probably carcinogen to humans,” according to the International Agency for Research on Cancer, part of the World Health Organization (WHO). Although the move would not restrict sales, it would better inform consumers of the risks associated with glyphosate use.
Despite these risks, the European Commission is planning to renew the approval of glyphosate as “safe to use” for another 15 years. Somehow, the European Food Safety Authority found that glyphosate is “unlikely to pose a carcinogenic hazard to humans.”
How could the European Commission come to the opposite conclusion? Fourteen expert scientists published a “Consensus Statement of Concern” in the journal Environmental Health last week provides that answer to that. The damning report also explains how regulatory testing is out of date and the risks of glyphosate are severely underestimated.
The researchers note:
“In the latest glyphosate regulatory assessment process by the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment, the description and assessment of studies was provided by the Glyphosate Task Force, a group of 25 agrochemical companies that combined resources to jointly apply for renewal of registrations for this herbicide within Europe. By way of contrast, in order to avoid conflicts of interests, the Glyphosate Task Force was restricted to a role of observer to the evaluation of data by independent scientists at the recent WHO IARC evaluation of glyphosate’s carcinogenic potential.”
In other words, the companies that produce glyphosate also provided the data used by the European Commission to say glyphosate poses no risk. When they were not involved in the evaluation process, in the case of the WHO study, the true risks of glyphosate became apparent.
The scientists go on to say that it is the norm for regulatory bodies to use “unpublished, non-peer reviewed data” produced by companies such as Monsanto who make chemical products. And they ignore a wealth of higher quality, peer-reviewed data.
“Most toxicological studies using advanced, modern tools and experimental designs within molecular genetics, reproductive, developmental, endocrinological, immunological and other disciplines have been undertaken in academic and research institute laboratories, and results have been published in peer-reviewed journals. Regulators have not incorporated, formally or indirectly, such research into their risk assessments. Rather, they rely on unpublished, non-peer reviewed data generated by the registrants. They have largely ignored published research because it often uses standards and procedures to assess quality that are different from those codified in regulatory agency data requirements, which largely focus on avoiding fraud.”
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The story sounds familiar. Last October we reported how the EPA and Monsanto always knew RoundUp was deadly toxic. Newly unearthed documents show that Monsanto “conducted numerous studies in the 1970s and 1980s on glyphosate’s toxicity and health risks and intentionally sealed this research from independent and public review and scrutiny.”
These revelations are coming to light as a recent study found that Monsanto’s glyphosate is the most heavily used weed killer in history. Seventy-four percent of all glyphosate use came in the last ten years, as “RoundUp Ready” crops flooded the market. As a result, herbicide use has increased over the years, contrary to Monsanto’s claim that genetically modified (GM) crops would decrease herbicide use.
The immense application of glyphosate over decades has caused the emergence of “super weeds” which are resistant to the chemical, which then triggers biotech companies to develop new GM crops resistant to more toxic herbicides such as dicamba.
EU lawmakers are not buying into the junk science of the Glyphosate Task Force and have called on the European Commission to reject authorization for three GM soybeans that can tolerate glyphosate. If they are approved, European states would see vast increases in glyphosate use, as the U.S. has experienced.
The scientists’ Consensus Statement of Concern shows that we are only just beginning to understand the effect of glyphosate on human and environmental health, and how government regulators have failed the public.
“Our Statement of Concern considers current published literature describing GBH [glyphosate-based herbicides] uses, mechanisms of action, toxicity in laboratory animals, and epidemiological studies. It also examines the derivation of current human safety standards. We conclude that: (1) GBHs are the most heavily applied herbicide in the world and usage continues to rise; (2) Worldwide, GBHs often contaminate drinking water sources, precipitation, and air, especially in agricultural regions; (3) The half-life of glyphosate in water and soil is longer than previously recognized; (4) Glyphosate and its metabolites are widely present in the global soybean supply; (5) Human exposures to GBHs are rising; (6) Glyphosate is now authoritatively classified as a probable human carcinogen; (7) Regulatory estimates of tolerable daily intakes for glyphosate in the United States and European Union are based on outdated science.”
They also point out new uses for glyphosate just prior to harvest (known as “green burndowns”) are leading to high dietary exposures. The herbicide is increasingly being detected in foods, and “recent studies…reveal possible endocrine system-mediated and developmental impacts of GBH exposures.”
While industry research originally convinced regulatory bodies that glyphosate only affected a plant-based “shikimic pathway” and therefore posed no threat to vertebrate health, several studies “now show that GBHs can adversely affect mammalian biology via multiple mechanisms.”
“Collectively, studies from laboratory animals, human populations, and domesticated animals suggest that current levels of exposure to GBHs can induce adverse health outcomes. Many of these effects would likely not be detected in experiments adhering to traditional toxicology test guidelines promulgated by pesticide-regulatory authorities.”
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency even tacitly acknowledge this in 2009, when it announced that future glyphosate “registrants” would be required to conduct neurotoxicity and immunotoxicity studies. This is set to take effect in 2016.
The Consensus Statement of Concern has detailed information on the newer studies that are sounding the alarm bell over glyphosate, as well as secondary and tertiary effects derived from “inert” ingredients that likely pose their own toxic threat. The EU and United States continue to allow herbicide companies to control the regulatory process, while humans and ecosystems suffer the ill effects of this negligence.