Conflicting conclusions on glyphosate risk may stem from what it’s mixed with

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Photo by Mike Mozart

The GLP aggregated and excerpted this blog/article to reflect the diversity of news, opinion and analysis.

Glyphosate, widely known by its trade name, Roundup, probably gets more attention than any other herbicide. It’s one of world’s most-used weedkillers, and it is also closely linked to the growth of GM crops.

Monsanto invented Roundup, and also invented crops that grow well when it’s used on them. Farmers find that combination almost irresistible.

So in March, when the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer classified glyphosate as a probably carcinogen, it set off a furor. The IARC’s announcement was especially noteworthy because glyphosate has long been considered among the least toxic pesticides used by farmers.

Now, another group of cancer experts has weighed in, further complicating the scientific debate.

The group, which was convened by the European Food Safety Agency, has reviewed the available scientific data on glyphosate and concluded that it probably does not cause cancer.

The European group took pains to explain why its assessment differs from that of the IARC. They considered a slightly different group of studies, for one thing. It only looked at studies of glyphosate by itself, for instance, rather than studies of glyphosate as it is sold to customers. These commercial formulations generally include a mixture of chemicals, and some of these other ingredients may be more more dangerous than glyphosate itself.

Any regulatory decisions in Europe about glyphosate-based herbicides will involve a close look at those commercial mixtures.

Meanwhile, the U.S. EPA has been carrying out its own review of glyphosate’s risks. The agency reportedly has finished a “preliminary risk assessment” of the chemical, and could release results by the end of the year.

  • SageThinker

    Interesting headline. It’s also possible that glyphosate causes cancer in its pure form, not only as a result of the adjuvants like POEA which are indeed known to be toxic, especially to aquatic life. The 1991 EPA memo did show evidence of many-fold increased rates of pancreatic adenomas among other tumor indications in Monsanto’s own unpublished rat study from the 1980s, and yet the EPA slid this under the rug with this memo, explaining it away because the dose response was not linear and positive, but looked more like a threshold response, similar to that of PCBs in the causation of hypertension (even among people whose main exposure is merely breathing nearby a river polluted with PCBs like the Hudson). So, in the end, i think the headline may be misleading, and it is indeed a re-write of the original NPR headline, ” European Cancer Experts Don’t Agree On How Risky Roundup Is”. Anyway, the EFSA in my assessment is rather much in the influence of the industry, as evidence by the fact that the Glyphosate Task Force essentially ghost wrote the BfR assessment published in 2014, among some other indications of close ties.

    • SageThinker

      There are people questioning the industry “science” which is likely to be a lot like tobacco science before it got dumped finally, after great cost to humanity by the way, and like climate denialism science as promoted by ExxonMobil and that whole industry, also at great cost to humanity. How many people have died because of tobacco science’s biasing of reality? And climate denialism’s delay of action on CO2 emissions?

      Anyway, what i have said about the 1991 EPA memo is not a conspiracy theory. It’s pointing out a particularly notable piece of evidence that something seems to have gone on in terms of influence to get the EPA to make a statement to erase the data showing very probable carcinogenic effects by glyphosate on the rat pancreas as well as testes and other tissues. This is a serious thing, if it in fact was a case of using the EPA as the rubber stamp to sign off (although thankfully three of those people in the EPA had the guts to NOT sign and to write “DO NOT CONCUR” on the paper). They are perhaps heroes of humanity, those three who did not sign — Robert Beliles, Jean Parker, and Richard Hill.

      You know what would be really excellent — if media would find these people and interview them. I bet they’re retired now, and they would be honest about why they did not sign, did not concur…. and they are probably heroes. I would like to know that story, what happened in October of 1991.

      • How many people have died because of [organic] science’s biasing of reality? And [biotech] denialism’s delay of action on [genetically modified crops]?

        Your ideology kills people, Sage. Make no mistake, you are death, destroyer of worlds.

        • SageThinker

          So… yeah… Monsanto makes a chemical that the EPA has to write an excuse note for in 1991 to say “it doesn’t cause cancer” and yet three of the EPA staffers refuse to sign and write “DO NOT CONCUR” where they would sign to agree, and yet it’s MY ideology that is dangerous? Monsanto makes PCBs in the 1960s and 1970s and keeps selling them, while poisoning Anniston, Alabama, and sells them to GE who pollute the Housatonic and Hudson rivers in totally preventable actions, and they’re now ghosts of rivers forever, and it’s ME who is dangerous? Methinks…. whatever.

          • Maybe we should ban the sun because the sun causes millions of cancers each year.

            Maybe we should ban water because thousands of people drown each year.

            Maybe we should ban life because life is the leading cause of death.

          • SageThinker

            Maybe we should have integrity, and maybe you should care about people’s health and not be an asinine obstructionist to clear thought.

          • But I am one of the people. My occupational exposure to glyphosate is huge because I never use safety gear and undoubtedly I ingest and breathe in some of stuff as well as the skin exposure. I have no motive to put lipstick on the glyphosate pig. You on the other hand have a grudge against Monsanto and a wish to destroy the company that invalidates your opinion.

            Where is your integrity?

          • SageThinker

            You speak of integrity.

        • SageThinker

          red herring, we are talking about glyphosate. If you want to talk about other things then go to the news stories about the other things.