Last week, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reaffirmed its 2017 assessment that glyphosate, the herbicide in Monsanto’s controversial Roundup weedkiller, does not cause cancer.
Glyphosate, the most widely-used herbicide in the world, works in tandem with Monsanto’s Roundup Ready crops such as soy, corn and cotton, which are genetically modified to withstand the potent herbicide.
According to the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC), about 10 percent of the 300 million pounds of Roundup applied annually in the United States is sprayed on non-agricultural land such as grass lawns, golf courses, parks and playgrounds.
Back in 2015, the International Agency for Research on Cancer classified glyphosate as “probably carcinogenic to humans.” On Tuesday, however, the EPA asserted that their findings indicating that glyphosate does not cause cancer “are consistent with the conclusions of science reviews by many other countries and other federal agencies.”
“EPA has found no risks to public health from the current registered uses of glyphosate. Today’s proposed action includes new management measures that will help farmers use glyphosate in the most effective and efficient way possible ...” Andrew Wheeler, EPA administrator, said in the agency’s April 30 statement.
It appears that it’s the EPA who’s the outlier here, not the IARC.
In April, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services released a draft, Toxicological Profile for Glyphosate, which describes a clear link between glyphosate and cancer according to Jennifer Sass, senior scientist with the Natural Resources Defense Council.
“The EPA is not taking into account its sister agency’s new studies and the fact that its own scientific advisory panel said that its classification couldn’t hold water. They disagreed with it, their own scientific advisory panel said it was in violation of their own cancer guidelines. So they’re ignoring a lot to stick to their guns on this,” Sass said.
She added, “There’s some discussion about how to classify that relationship between glyphosate and cancer, according to the cancer guidelines. But EPA didn’t do that. EPA called it ‘not likely a carcinogen,’ and everybody disagrees with that. Whether you call it a probable carcinogen, a possible carcinogen… How you characterize that link could be a discussion, but that’s not what EPA did," she said. "The EPA said there’s no link."
But while the EPA finds no link, researchers from the University of Washington report that Roundup increases the risk of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, a cancer of the immune system, by 41 percent.
In addition, Monsanto is facing lawsuits from at least 13,400 U.S. plaintiffs - an increase of 20 percent in just the past few months. Anticipated settlement terms, according to Fortune, could exceed $20 billion.
Perhaps plaintiffs are encouraged by recent judicial trends. As reported in March, California juries awarded $289 and $80 million, respectively, to two men who alleged that Roundup played a significant role in the causation of their non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. (A judge reduced the $289 million award down to $78 million.)
On the defense in recent months, Monsanto, purchased last year by German agrochemical and pharmaceutical giant Bayer AG, may now get a reprieve because of the favorable EPA announcement.
“Our general recommendation about all the agri-chemical products is to avoid them when you can. That’s a really different thing for farmers and for homeowners. Generally, putting chemicals into the environment means that they’re going to get into the waterways. If you have them on your lawn, people who go on your lawn, pets, wildlife and kids are going to get residues on them. If you put it into your garden there’s going to be residues on your food,” Sass said.
“Treat them like the toxic chemicals they are,” she said.
The public has 60 days to submit comments on the EPA’s proposed decision at www.regulations.gov, docket # EPA-HQ-OPP-2009-0361.