Despite activists’ claims about glyphosate dangers, there’s no cancer spike in Argentina

This is the first of two articles on misinformation being spread about pesticides in South America. Read Part 2 here.

The headlines have been alarming: “Cancer deaths double in Argentina’s GMO agribusiness areas,” was typical. The Ecologist in 2014, targeted Monsanto’s Roundup (glyphosate), stating that “it’s all the result of the widespread use of GMO crops engineered for herbicide resistance” and that “industrial, GMO driven cropping is turning into a public health hell.” The claims were backed up by local officials, the magazine claimed.

A report by the Ministry of Health in Córdoba, Argentina reveals that deaths from cancerous tumours are double the national average in areas where genetically engineered crops are grown and agro-chemicals are used. This comprehensive report documented five years of information on cancer cases in the province.

GM Watch ran a similar post, titled “Cancer deaths double where GM crops and agrochemicals used.” This article ran the same report from the Ministry of Health in Cordoba province that claimed cancer rates in that province were double the national average. That report highlighted cancer data from 2004 to 2009.

It later turned out that none of those claims are true. In recent interviews and formal reports, the head of the Provincial Cancer Hospital in Córdoba, the provincial minister of agriculture, and an agri-chemical specialist at Córdoba University, all emphasized that while cancer is a concern for the province the rate is no higher than anywhere else in the country. In fact, the one area where cancer rates are trending higher did not engage in any agriculture.

Rob Saik, CEO of the Canadian-based agricultural sustainability company Agri-Trend, recently visited Argentina to interview specialists and residents as part of the research for a film called “KnowGMO the Movie” that he and his son are producing on agriculture and activism.

The true story is 180 degrees different from what you pick up on the internet” Saik said in an interview. “There are health issues there, but there is no correlation between GMOs, chemicals and cancer rates in Cordoba.” Saik interviewed local experts in two areas of Argentina targeted by activists: Ituzaingo and Monte Maiz.

Expert testimony on real cancer rates

Martin Alonso is a doctor and director of the provincial cancer hospital in Cordoba. Alonso said he first learned about concerns about cancer rates when a survey showed an increase. The provincial government carried out field research and instead of finding the higher cancer rates supposedly discovered by local health officials as claimed by GM Watch, it found that “the cases of cancer found by neighbors could not be confirmed.” In Monte Maiz, part of Cordoba province, he told Saik:

The situation was exactly the same. The evaluations we have carried out did not show different cancer incidences from those found in other populations with similar exposition in Cordoba Province.

Alonso wrote to the president of the committee on human health for the Cordoba legislature to clarify what that rates of cancer were in Cordoba from 2004 to 2011.He was told that there was no overall increase and rates were not different from the rest of Argentina.

According to the World Health Organization…epidemiologic data how the beginning of this trend (of increasing death from cancer) in the less developed world, in particular countries in transition and middle-income, for example in South America and Asia. The Provincial Tumor Registry of Cordoba concluded that the distribution of cancer cases observed in the province of Cordoba is consistent with the epidemiological profile of the country. It is our duty to bring peace to the population…with reference to news stories, and bring rationality to a debate that seeks settlement based on simplistic and incorrect interpretations of the data.

Alicia Cavallo is a chemistry professor at Cordoba University who specializes in agri-chemicals and agricultural management. She observed that pesticides used before the advent of GM crops had higher toxicity levels than glyphosate and other chemicals associated with GMs, and were “not target specific and environmentally safe.”

Related article:  Cancer bigger problem for wine than glyphosate

She noted to Saik that the “Ituzaingo controversy started 15 years ago and the primary causes were different from Monte Maiz. They only considered farming production, not its relation to GMOs. This controversial situation…didn’t take into consideration other contamination factors related to this neighborhood.” It turns out that the neighborhood was built on an old landfill that had heavy metal residues like lead, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) released from electrical transformers, and other contaminants in the soil. Glyphosate on the other hand is neither carcinogenic or teratogenic.

In Monte Maiz, “some students developed a study without the scientific rigor established by the Pan-American Health Organization”. Students simply asked neighbors if they thought cancer rates were high, and if they thought some other people in their neighborhood had cancer. Not exactly a double-blind trial, or even an evaluation of a tumor registry.

Juan Cruz Molina, the agriculture secretary for Cordoba province, pointed out that agriculture in the province constitutes about 40 percent of the surface land area there. And cropland has increased from 3 million to 7 million hectares since 1995. “Due to GMOs, cropland has certain increased,” Molina said. “When properly used, the risks reduce significantly. We all want to practice lower-impact agriculture.” He added that when he and colleagues contacted health organizations, they found no direct relation between pesticides, phytosanitary products, or other agricultural chemicals and cancer. But, “there are certain interest groups that communicate part of the truth. They raise the banner of the environment but they do not communicate the truth.”

All three blame activists who had moved into the areas for the rise of this misinformation. “They associate it with political ideas. They associate GMOs with the lack of food sovereignty, imperialism and other issues,” Cavallo said.

What’s the issue?

It appears that activists had fabricated data identifying cancer rates that didn’t exist. Monsanto had planned on constructing a seed breeding and production plant in Córdoba province until outside activists began arriving in the area to stage protests, influence local neighbors and involve themselves with politics–all to to sow seeds of doubt about GMOs.

Read part 2 here.

Andrew Porterfield is a writer, editor and communications consultant for academic institutions, companies and non-profits in the life sciences. He is based in Camarillo, California. Follow @AMPorterfield on Twitter.

33 thoughts on “Despite activists’ claims about glyphosate dangers, there’s no cancer spike in Argentina”

  1. Well, “The Ecologist” has been outed as nothing but a conspiracy factory lately. Even the NYT called them out.

    With reputable­ sounding names like The Ecologist and Global Research, they produce slick websites that weave facts, half­truths and pseudoscientific analysis into sinister assertions. They trace the hidden hand of “Big Pharma” spreading disease for profit and claim that billionaires like Bill Gates are closeted eugenicists seeking to address overpopulation by promoting poisoned childhood vaccines.

    Facts and data are no barrier to these folks. And they appear to not care that misinformation actually makes health situations worse. I don’t know how they sleep at night.

  2. You can continue to spin the safety of glyphosate and its related surfactants, but the scientific data continues to mount. I’m guessing that you guys didn’t read the recent Defarge et al (Feb 2016) paper where they found that glyphosate caused endocrine disruption in aromatase activity at 1/3 of agricultural dilution ratios. They also found for the 1st time that the coformulants of glyphosate also result in endocrine disruption (much more than glyphosate) – starting at up to 800 times less than agricultural dillutions.

    Then theres the great recent article by Xu et al (2015 in Chemosphere) where they found that breathing in nano particles of glyphosate-based herbicides causes cell damage in nasal epithelium, thorax epithelium, and gastro-intest. epithelium. Even more interesting, they found that the glyphosate saturated these tissues by means of the LAT-1 & LAT-2 amino acid transmitters. LAT-1 is responsible for creating blood-brain barrier, which leads to recent Coullery et al (Feb 2016) article where they found that glyphosate retards neuronal development (and also determined exact method as to how this happens).

    You guys can post whatever you want, but this chemical is going down and will soon be listed as a carcinogen in our country.

      • You are welcome to believe whatever you want, but my opinions are strictly based upon recent peer-reviewed, published scientific studies – unlike the EPA or Monsanto’s references. One of the big issues about glyphosate is that the added co-formulants/surfactants/inactive ingredients have shown to be much more toxic than glyphosate. POEA, one of the primary surfactants used has been shown to be between 1200 and 2000 more cytotoxic than glyphosate. There are nearly 30 journal articles that all support the toxicity of the adjuvants.

        I suggest that you enjoy a nice treat of some corn or potatoes today, so that you can enjoy both glyphosate and bT mycotoxins. If you think you like glyphosate, you will love its synergistic effects when combined with bT! You owe to to yourself to treat yourself good, and celebrate our flawless human technology.

        What I love about this website is the complete lack of scientific references. The fun part is being able to say anything without having to back it up! So feel free to make any unsubstantiated claim that you want.

        • First of thanks for the long reply, and I hate to be rude, but POEA is soap. It is Organic soap, made from beef and sheep tallow. Look at at the name Polyethoxylated tallow amine, it is just tallow that has been exolateted( add lye). You are freaking out about soap.
          They add soaps to all herbicides so that the herbicide sticks to the plants, just like fire fighters add it to water to make firefighting more effective. they add soaps/surfactants so that farmers can use far less herbicide.

          • POEA is noty essentially soap. You are highly misinformed, and I would suggest that you should read at least 30 peer-reviewed journal articles that all examine the cytotoxicity of POEA.
            I am not freaking out about soap, I am responding to the scientific research that came out of dozens of recent journal articles (by an assortment of different scientists). You should try reading current research.

          • It is soap, a surfactant to be exact. There are 100s of peer reviewed studies that examine the cytotoxicity of soaps and surfactants. Not that it matters, no one is injecting this surfactant into their bodies.

          • “It is not added”, this is a plain lie, by definition, the ethoxylation process is a reaction where ethylene oxyde is added to a substrate, in this case ethylene oxyde is added to the Polyethoxylate Tallow Amine, so ethylene oxyde (which is a very toxic compound) is a component of the reaction with tallow amines in presence of a catalyst, normally a metal

            It is not like the “organic soap of your grandmother”. It is much much more toxic. I dont know how many “soaps” are made in this way, but they are not intended as shower soap, at least in the UE, may be in USA somebody sell POEA as shower soap, I do not know, anyhow seeing the situation with the glyphosate + POEA + 2,4-D + Dicamba it will not surprise me

          • Yes the first part is correct, but ethylene oxide reacts with the substrate, and therefor there is no more toxic ethylene oxide. All commercial soaps are made this way.

            It is not like the “organic soap of your grandmother”

            Actually it is. sort of. It is less toxic than Grandmas soap, no lye is needed. Lye is very toxic, it will remove your skin and eat your bones.

            I dont know how many “soaps” are made in this way, but they are not intended as shower soap, at least in the UE

            Almost all soaps are made this way, even in the EU where they invented this process.

            POEA as shower soap

            No one would use POEA as shower soap, it is expensive organic soap.

          • Ok now you recognize the ethylene oxyde react with the substrate, and it is not a “catalyst”, well this is a first step

            The truth is the 28 members of the UE are moving to ban completelly the POEA from all the products sold in the UE, glyphosate included (if it still contain it)

            The EFSA (European Food Safety Authority) made an evaluation about the POEA recognizing it cannot say it is safe at all, and EFSA conclude: “compared to glyphosate, a higher toxicity of the POE-tallowamine was observed on all endpoints investigated”


            In the paragraph 2.4 “Long term toxicity and carcinogenicity” the EFSA say:

            “No chronic toxicity data are available. As for carcinogenic potential, the US-EPA concluded that the whole group of polyethoxylated alkyl amines was not of concern for carcinogenicity (US-EPA, 2009). No data (or summary of data) is available to EFSA to verify this conclusion”

            It is clear because the EPA has not made this assessment based on public or peer review studies and no data are provided. As many other cases, it is not “scientific based decision” is a “corporate interest based decision” process. This is not new, I think is the “normal way”

            You know, the EFSA is also full of conflict of interest with the industry and his position is always aligned with the corporations’ interest, but this case is so dangerous and clear that even the EFSA cannot defend the POEA safety

            The weight of evidence is too much

          • POEA is soap/surfactant, and if the giant brains in the EU want to ban it, fine. There are literally 100s of surfactants that can be used with pesticides.

            “compared to glyphosate, a higher toxicity of the POE-tallowamine was observed on all endpoints investigated”

            So you agree that soap is far more toxic than glyphosate. Yeah, welcome to the GMO team.. Please shower with soap before our annual “GMO super party”

          • I love the way that glyphosate has to either be cancer causing to completely safe. I don’t believe either of these outcomes, but there are many health concerns that have been well documented. Why cancer or safe? Isn’t there a huge range of possibility in between cancer and safe? That is one of the biggest problems with the glyphosate controversy – it has to be proved to cause cancer or its completely safe.

          • “I love the way that glyphosate has to either be cancer causing to completely safe”

            The argument is that there has to be repeatable evidence of relative risk.

            “Isn’t there a huge range of possibility in between cancer and safe?”

            Yes, and an exhaustive search is certain to produce type I errors, which activists will trumpet whenever it’s in their favor.

            “That is one of the biggest problems with the glyphosate controversy – it has to be proved to cause cancer or its completely safe.”

            No, the biggest problem is that organic funded research has made it a priority to “show” it causes cancer by whatever means possible.

        • Granted, the surfactants are a point of interest. But seeing as surfactants are common in pesticide use, they’re not an argument against glyphosate.
          In order to make it an argument against glyphosate we need to figure out:

          1. What surfactants are used alongside glyphosate,
          2. Whether they’re only (or mostly) used with glyphosate, and if they are,
          3. how those surfactants compare to other surfactants that are used.

          At the moment I don’t have any data on this, so I’m reluctant to assume glyphosate poses a health risk.

        • You are confused. There is no such thing as a Bt mycotoxin. Mycotoxins are fungi left by an insect, the corn borer, on the corn, if the corn borer insect is not prevented (killed) from infecting that corn. Mycotoxins can cause neurological problems. The BT trait in BT corn kills the corn borer, and thus that insect cannot leave this stuff behind on the corn. Get it now? Feel free to ask any relevant questions.

          Mycotoxins are one reason I will not eat organic corn.

      • Seralini just won two civil lawsuits (last month and in December) in reference to slanderous statements made about the controversial rat research. But those articles are not covered here. I suggest you actually read the Defarge article and examine their methods, before you immediately assume the research is poor.

        • He won defamation suits that had nothing to do with the quality of his work. In other words… So what?

          And sometimes, when you continue to associate with known activists, and shoddy scientists you really don’t need to worry about digging into the work much more deeply than that. Not to mention, one study does not override the past few decades worth of safety assessments.

          Suffice to say that I put a lot more trust in agencies like the BfR, EPA, EFSA, USDA, etc, etc…

    • Your shill accusation for anyone who knows anything about GE is so pathetic, juvenile, shallow, and bottom-of-the-barrel. You’d really believe a flying yoga on GE issues over someone who is well-respected in his field? Or an organic promoter with a clear financial agenda? Or any number of other anti-GE activists?

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