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California Becomes First State to Declare Glyphosate Causes Cancer

The state of California has finalized its decision designating glyphosate, the main ingredient in the pesticide Roundup, as a known human carcinogen under the state's Proposition 65. The listing was prompted by the World Health Organization's finding that glyphosate is a "probable" human carcinogen. The World Health Organization's cancer research agency is widely considered to be the gold standard for research on cancer.


"When it comes to Roundup, California has become a national leader in flagging the very real danger posed by this vastly over-used pesticide," said Nathan Donley, a senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity and a former cancer researcher. "The state based its decision on the findings of the world's most reliable, transparent and science-based assessment of glyphosate."

Glyphosate is the most widely used pesticide in the U.S. and the world. It is also the most widely used pesticide in California, as measured by area of treated land. An analysis by the Center for Biological Diversity found that more than half of the glyphosate sprayed in California is applied in the state's eight most-impoverished counties. The analysis also found that the populations in these counties are predominantly Hispanic or Latino, indicating that glyphosate use in California is distributed unequally along both socioeconomic and racial lines.

"It's become painfully clear that we can no longer ignore the risk that this pesticide poses to people and wildlife," Donley said.

Earlier this month, a report released by a key scientific advisory panel concluded that the pesticides office at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) failed to follow its own guidelines when it found last year that glyphosate—the active ingredient in Monsanto's flagship pesticide Roundup—is not likely to be carcinogenic to humans.

And court documents released last week revealed that the chair of the EPA's Cancer Assessment Review Committee on glyphosate was in regular contact with Monsanto, providing insider information that guided Monsanto's messaging. The chair promised to thwart the Department of Health and Human Services' review of glyphosate's safety, saying that if he was successful he deserved a medal. The department never did review glyphosate's safety.

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"I will lay this on the foot of those environmental radicals that have prevented us from managing the forests for years. And you know what? This is on them," he said in the interview.

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The remarks come as California has suffered the deadliest blaze in the state's history. The death toll from the Camp Fire, which destroyed the town of Paradise in Northern California, has now risen to 79. Around 1,000 people are still listed as missing, and the fire is now 70 percent contained, according to an Associated Press report Monday.

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Regardless, Zinke has remained consistent in pointing the finger at forest management. His current criticisms echo his remarks following other fires this August, in which he said the increasingly frequent and violent blazes were the result of inadequate forest management, and not climate change. He continued in that vein during Sunday's interview:

"In many cases, it's these radical environmentalists who want nature to take its course. We have dead and dying timber. We can manage it using best science, best practices. But to let this devastation go on year after year after year is unacceptable, it's not going to happen. The president is absolutely engaged."

President Donald Trump has indeed vehemently blamed forest mismanagement ever since the recent batch of fires broke out, even threatening at one point to withhold federal funding if the forests weren't managed properly. During a visit to California Saturday to survey damage, Trump brought up forest management again, suggesting that the problem in California was that the forests were not raked enough.

"You look at other countries where they do it differently, and it's a whole different story," he said, as CNN reported. "I was with the president of Finland, and he said: 'We have a much different [sic] ..., we're a forest nation.' And they spent a lot of time on raking and cleaning and doing things, and they don't have any problem," he added.

Finnish President Sauli Niinistö, however, told a Finnish newspaper he did not recall suggesting raking to Trump.

"I mentioned [to] him that Finland is a land covered by forests and we also have a good monitoring system and network," he said.

Finnish people have taken to Twitter to poke fun at the U.S. President's statement using the hashtag "Raking America Great Again."

Despite Trump and Zinke's criticisms, the fact remains that the federal government controls almost 60 percent of the forests in California while the state controls only three percent. Paradise was surrounded by federal, not state, forests. Further, the fires in Southern California spread in suburban and urban areas, The Huffington Post reported.

Some think the emphasis put by Zinke and Trump on forest management is not about preventing fires at all but rather an attempt to justify opening more public forests to private logging interests.

U.S. Department of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke speaks with land managers, private landowners, university staff, and the media about federal forestry and land management at Boise State University on June 2, 2017. USDA photo by Lance Cheung

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