The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has rejected the International Agency for Research on Cancer's (IARC) classification of glyphosate as a possible carcinogen, declaring that the active ingredient in Monsanto's widely used weedkiller Roundup, is "unlikely to pose a carcinogenic hazard to humans."
However, the EFSA has made a very important admission in their report, as noted by Sustainable Pulse. Unlike the IARC, the Italy-based EFSA examined glyphosate alone, not glyphosate formulations.
The adverse health effects of the herbicide, therefore, could be related to reactions with "other constituents or 'co-formulants,'" the EFSA report said.
As Sustainable Pulse writes:
"A very important point is that glyphosate-based herbicides would not work well to kill weeds for farmers or gardeners without the addition of these extra additional chemicals known as adjuvants."
"However, the complete pesticide formulations as sold and used also contain additives (adjuvants), which increase the pest—or weedkilling activity of the pesticide. These complete formulations do not have to be tested in medium- and long-term tests—even though they are the substances to which farmers and citizens are exposed."
The EFSA provides independent scientific advice to the European Union and plays a key role in the authorization of thousands of products ending up in Europe's food chain, including genetically modified organisms (GMOs), pesticides, food additives and nanotech products, according to the Corporate Europe Observatory, a non-profit corporate lobbying research group.
Could the EFSA's conclusion in it latest report be influenced by larger players though? Sustainable Pulse suggests that "corruption" might be at hand. This video from the Corporate Europe Observatory alleges that Big Food corporations and biotech companies, including Monsanto, might have intimate ties with EFSA.
In March, the IARC (the World Heath Organization's cancer research arm) famously linked Monsanto's weedkiller to cancer. If the EFSA had a similar classification, it would mean that glyphosate would no longer be used.
The EFSA explained today why their conclusion differed from the IARC's:
This is because the EU and IARC take different approaches to the classification of chemicals. The EU scheme—assesses each individual chemical, and each marketed mixture separately. IARC assesses generic agents, including groups of related chemicals, as well as occupational or environmental exposure, and cultural or behavioural practices.
This is important because although some studies suggest that certain glyphosate-based formulations may be genotoxic (i.e. damaging to DNA), others that look solely at the active substance glyphosate do not show this effect. It is likely, therefore, that the genotoxic effects observed in some glyphosate-based formulations are related to the other constituents or “co-formulants."
Interestingly, the EFSA has also, for the first time, proposed a maximum exposure on glyphosate. The maximum safe daily dose is recommended at 0.5 milligrams per kilogram of body weight.
According to Reuters, "that means an 80-kg person could eat food containing 40 milligrams of glyphosate per day for the rest of their life."
Monsanto has vehemently denied glyphosate's link to cancer and has demanded a retraction of the IARC's report. Today, the agrotech giant also sent out this tweet touting the herbicide's benefits to farmers.
Glyphosate is the go-to weed killer for use on genetically engineered (or Roundup Ready) crops grown around the world. In the U.S., farmers sprayed 2.6 billion pounds of it on U.S. agricultural land between 1992 and 2012, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.
Since the IARC's classification, however, several communities have demanded bans, France has ceased sales of Roundup in garden centers, California's Environmental Protection Agency issued plans to list glyphosate as a possible carcinogen and a slew of lawsuits have been mounting against Monsanto. EcoWatch recently reported that personal injury law firms around the U.S. are gathering numerous plaintiffs to build “mass tort actions" alleging that exposure to the company's popular weedkiller has caused cancer in their clients.
Last month, a majority of the European Union officially "opted out" of growing genetically modified crops (GMOs) within their territories. These member states were targeting Monsanto's GMO maize, the only GMO crop approved for cultivation in the EU.
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The speed and scale of the response to COVID-19 by governments, businesses and individuals seems to provide hope that we can react to the climate change crisis in a similarly decisive manner - but history tells us that humans do not react to slow-moving and distant threats.
A Game of Jenga<p>Think of it as a game of Jenga and the planet's climate system as the tower. For generations, we have been slowly removing blocks. But at some point, we will remove a pivotal block, such as the collapse of one of the major global ocean circulation systems, for example the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC), that will cause all or part of the global climate system to fall into a planetary emergency.</p><p>But worse still, it could cause runaway damage: Where the tipping points form a domino-like cascade, where breaching one triggers breaches of others, creating an unstoppable shift to a radically and swiftly changing climate.</p><p>One of the most concerning tipping points is mass methane release. Methane can be found in deep freeze storage within permafrost and at the bottom of the deepest oceans in the form of methane hydrates. But rising sea and air temperatures are beginning to thaw these stores of methane.</p><p>This would release a powerful greenhouse gas into the atmosphere, 30-times more potent than carbon dioxide as a global warming agent. This would drastically increase temperatures and rush us towards the breach of other tipping points.</p><p>This could include the acceleration of ice thaw on all three of the globe's large, land-based ice sheets – Greenland, West Antarctica and the Wilkes Basin in East Antarctica. The potential collapse of the West Antarctic ice sheet is seen as a key tipping point, as its loss could eventually <a href="https://science.sciencemag.org/content/324/5929/901" target="_blank">raise global sea levels by 3.3 meters</a> with important regional variations.</p><p>More than that, we would be on the irreversible path to full land-ice melt, causing sea levels to rise by up to 30 meters, roughly at the rate of two meters per century, or maybe faster. Just look at the raised beaches around the world, at the last high stand of global sea level, at the end of the Pleistocene period around 120,0000 years ago, to see the evidence of such a warm world, which was just 2°C warmer than the present day.</p>
Cutting Off Circulation<p>As well as devastating low-lying and coastal areas around the world, melting polar ice could set off another tipping point: a disablement to the AMOC.</p><p>This circulation system drives a northward flow of warm, salty water on the upper layers of the ocean from the tropics to the northeast Atlantic region, and a southward flow of cold water deep in the ocean.</p><p>The ocean conveyor belt has a major effect on the climate, seasonal cycles and temperature in western and northern Europe. It means the region is warmer than other areas of similar latitude.</p><p>But melting ice from the Greenland ice sheet could threaten the AMOC system. It would dilute the salty sea water in the north Atlantic, making the water lighter and less able or unable to sink. This would slow the engine that drives this ocean circulation.</p><p><a href="https://www.carbonbrief.org/atlantic-conveyor-belt-has-slowed-15-per-cent-since-mid-twentieth-century" target="_blank">Recent research</a> suggests the AMOC has already weakened by around 15% since the middle of the 20th century. If this continues, it could have a major impact on the climate of the northern hemisphere, but particularly Europe. It may even lead to the <a href="https://ore.exeter.ac.uk/repository/handle/10871/39731?show=full" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cessation of arable farming</a> in the UK, for instance.</p><p>It may also reduce rainfall over the Amazon basin, impact the monsoon systems in Asia and, by bringing warm waters into the Southern Ocean, further destabilize ice in Antarctica and accelerate global sea level rise.</p>
The Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation has a major effect on the climate. Praetorius (2018)
Is it Time to Declare a Climate Emergency?<p>At what stage, and at what rise in global temperatures, will these tipping points be reached? No one is entirely sure. It may take centuries, millennia or it could be imminent.</p><p>But as COVID-19 taught us, we need to prepare for the expected. We were aware of the risk of a pandemic. We also knew that we were not sufficiently prepared. But we didn't act in a meaningful manner. Thankfully, we have been able to fast-track the production of vaccines to combat COVID-19. But there is no vaccine for climate change once we have passed these tipping points.</p><p><a href="https://www.weforum.org/reports/the-global-risks-report-2021" target="_blank">We need to act now on our climate</a>. Act like these tipping points are imminent. And stop thinking of climate change as a slow-moving, long-term threat that enables us to kick the problem down the road and let future generations deal with it. We must take immediate action to reduce global warming and fulfill our commitments to the <a href="https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Paris Agreement</a>, and build resilience with these tipping points in mind.</p><p>We need to plan now to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions, but we also need to plan for the impacts, such as the ability to feed everyone on the planet, develop plans to manage flood risk, as well as manage the social and geopolitical impacts of human migrations that will be a consequence of fight or flight decisions.</p><p>Breaching these tipping points would be cataclysmic and potentially far more devastating than COVID-19. Some may not enjoy hearing these messages, or consider them to be in the realm of science fiction. But if it injects a sense of urgency to make us respond to climate change like we have done to the pandemic, then we must talk more about what has happened before and will happen again.</p><p>Otherwise we will continue playing Jenga with our planet. And ultimately, there will only be one loser – us.</p>
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