Quantcast
Popular
Mike Mozart / Flickr

It's Official: California Lists Key Ingredient in Monsanto's Roundup as Cancer-Causing

By Katherine Paul

California is officially adding glyphosate, the key ingredient in Monsanto's Roundup herbicide, to the state's list of chemicals and substances known to cause cancer.

Before we dive into the weeds in terms of what the listing does and doesn't mean, and may or may not lead to, let's take a moment to recognize that this is a landmark decision in the ongoing battle against Monsanto's flagship weedkiller.


Every activist who has engaged in this fight deserves to take a moment to bask in this victory.

It's not everything we need, or everything we want—but California's decision, upheld by the courts, represents a major step forward in a decades-long fight expose the truth about Roundup and protect the public from its cancer-causing effects.

The full impact of the decision remains to be seen. How much glyphosate will need to be present before a product is required to carry a warning? How many foods will exceed the glyphosate residue limits set by California's Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA)?

Will Monsanto find a way to keep those warnings off all labels? Including foods and weedkillers?

Time will tell. And activists will need to remain vigilant.

But for now, it's celebration time.

How We Got Here

It was more than two years ago, in March 2015, that the World Health Organization's (WHO) International Agency for Cancer Research (IARC) said glyphosate is "probably carcinogenic" to humans.

The ruling by the 17-member international panel of scientists was unanimous. That didn't stop Monsanto from attacking the ruling, going so far as to call it "junk science."

Over Monsanto's objections, IARC's decision triggered a move by California's OEHHA to add glyphosate to the list of cancer-causing chemicals the agency keeps as required under California's Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986, better known as Proposition 65. Under Prop 65, businesses must warn Californians about significant exposures to chemicals that cause cancer, birth defects or other reproductive harm.

Predictably, Monsanto went to court to stop the listing, But on June 22, a judge for the U.S. District Court, Northern District of California sided with OEHHA, clearing the way for the July 7 listing.

Monsanto didn't go down without a fight—a dirty fight, as usual. In a last-ditch move to keep glyphosate off the Prop 65 list—and cancer warnings off products that contain glyphosate—the agribusiness giant got a Reuters reporter to write a misleading article aimed at undermining IARC's decision. The Reuters piece was swiftly debunked.

The Devil's In the Details—or Is It In the Weeds?

Monsanto has vowed to keep fighting. Meanwhile California has set the date—July 7—for adding glyphosate to the Prop 65 list. But that's just the first step.

Before manufacturers can be required to add cancer warnings to labels, OEHHA has to determine what is called a "No Significant Risk Level"—in other words, how much glyphosate has to be present before it's considered a risk, and therefore a manufacturer has to provide a warning?

Before we go any farther, let's just point out that there are credible scientists, and credible studies suggesting that there are no safe levels of glyphosate. Period. We consulted our science advisors, who pointed to several studies confirming the "no safe level" argument. For instance, there's this one: "Transcriptome profile analysis reflects rat liver and kidney damage following chronic ultra-low dose Roundup exposure," by Mesnage et al., 2015, published in Environmental Health, which finds potential adverse effects from glyphosate exposure at 0.05 parts per billion (PPB).

Our scientists also suggested reading this report: especially pp. 14-15, for a discussion on why the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) ADI (allowed daily intake) of 1.75 mg/kg body weight/day is bad.

Back to reality. California will surely decide on some (as opposed to no) safe level. But it will take time—maybe a year, according to this CNN report:

If the OEHHA sets its standards based on the federal EPA, we have no chance of seeing warning labels on food. If they base the decision on studies that show, for instance, that .1ppt stimulated the growth of breast cancer cells, then it is very possible we will see labels, not only on Roundup, but on many other products, as well.

In other words, under Prop 65, some food—not just weedkillers—may require cancer warnings, depending on how much glyphosate residue they contain. Again, from CNN:

Recent tests from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency have revealed levels from 3,000-6,000 parts per billion on garbanzo beans and wheat. The FDA has found 1.67 parts per million on infant oatmeal cereal. If a baby ate just three ounces of that food four times a day, it would consume 15,000 times more glyphosate than the rats in Michael Antoniou's Glyphosate study, that contracted liver disease in one day.

CNN also reported, and our experts agreed, that under Prop 65, Monsanto could get away with cancer-warning signs on store shelves, rather than labels on the products. Not ideal.

Reasons for Hope

Whatever the levels set by OEHHA and the loopholes exploited by Monsanto, make no mistake: Getting glyphosate listed under California's Prop 65 is huge, especially when considered in the context of all the other pressure being exerted right now on Monsanto.

Consider all of this:

1. Court battles pull back the curtain on Monsanto's corrupt activities.

The fact that more than 1,000 plaintiffs are involved in dozens of lawsuits alleging that exposure to Roundup caused them or their families to develop non-Hodgkin lymphoma (a potentially deadly cancer) is compelling enough. Especially when a mainstream media outlet like CNN, often silent when it comes to challenging the corporate establishment, takes notice. That in itself is a win for consumers.

But the bigger win may be what those lawsuits are doing to shed light on Monsanto's sustained campaign to bury the truth about its deadly products.

In March, the New York Times, citing court documents, reported on possible collusion between former EPA officials and Monsanto employees to hide the facts about the health risks of glyphosate:

The court documents included Monsanto's internal emails and email traffic between the company and federal regulators. The records suggested that Monsanto had ghostwritten research that was later attributed to academics and indicated that a senior official at the Environmental Protection Agency had worked to quash a review of Roundup's main ingredient, glyphosate, that was to have been conducted by the United States Department of Health and Human Services.

The revelations confirmed consumer suspicions that Roundup isn't "safe" and validated the opinions of scientists who question its safety. They've triggered an calls in Europe for further investigation.

2. EPA forced to investigate Monsanto corruption.

Thanks to the work of reporters studying court documents, the EPA has stepped in. On May 31, the agency's inspector general responded to Rep. Ted Lieu's (D-Calif.) call for an investigation into possible collusion between Monsanto and EPA officials. (Organic Consumers Association also called for an investigation. We haven't heard back).

The EPA may just be going through the formalities to appease Lieu and his constituents. But even if that's true, it's still a sign that consumers are getting through to an agency that has historically been aggressively pro-Monsanto.

3. Consumers are fighting back through the courts, too.

Monsanto and Big Food have long been allies in the campaign to hide GMOs and the pesticides used to grow them, from consumers. Will the Junk Food Giants reconsider their position, if they, too, get dragged through the courts?

The Organic Consumers Association, along with other groups, have been testing food products for glyphosate, and taking companies to court for falsely marketing their products as "natural" and "100% Natural." Pending cases include the one against General Mills' Nature Valley granola bars, and another against Sioux Honey. Both products contain glyphosate. (A recent study from Canada revealed glyphosate in 30 percent of the food products tested).

OCA also sued Monsanto directly for false labeling of Roundup, as have consumers in Wisconsin.

4. U.S. Food and Drug Administration resumes testing food for glyphosate.

As the lawsuits flow, and more evidence comes to light about the toxic impact of glyphosate on human health (including bad outcomes for pregnant moms and their babies), the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has been shamed into testing foods for glyphosate residues—a project it had previously abandoned.

Progress may seem slow, given that we've been challenging glyphosate for more than 20 years. But it all adds up. We should be encouraged.

In the meantime, consumers can pressure retail stores to stop selling Roundup, and Scotts Miracle Gro, exlcusive retail distributor of Roundup, to dump it.

And of course, we should all keep the pressure on the EPA to ban glyphosate, for good.

Katherine Paul is associate director of the Organic Consumers Association.

Show Comments ()
Sponsored
Popular
iStock

How Trump Could Undermine the U.S. Solar Boom

By Llewelyn Hughes and Jonas Meckling

Tumbling prices for solar energy have helped stoke demand among U.S. homeowners, businesses and utilities for electricity powered by the sun. But that could soon change.

President Donald Trump—whose proposed 2018 budget would slash support for alternative energy—may get a new opportunity to undermine the solar power market by imposing duties that could increase the cost of solar power high enough to choke off the industry's growth.

Keep reading... Show less
Popular
Richard Branson's Necker Island was hit by two hurricanes in two weeks. Richard Branson/Instagram

Richard Branson to Donald Trump: The Whole World Knows Climate Change is Real

Virgin Group founder and longtime environmentalist Richard Branson, who faced two damaging hurricanes in a row from his home in the British Virgin Islands, called out President Donald Trump's refusal to accept the science of climate change.

"Look, you can never be 100 percent sure about links," the British billionaire said Tuesday on CNN's "New Day" when asked about the correlation between global warming and the recent string of major hurricanes to hit the Carribean and the United States.

Keep reading... Show less
Popular
Stateville Correctional Center in Illinois. Prison ecology advocates are celebrating the launch of a new prisons layer to the EPA's environmental justice mapping tool, but still hope the EPA will expand inspection and enforcement activities related to prisons. Rw2 / Wikipedia

EPA Adds Prison Locations to Its Environmental Justice Mapping Tool

By Zoe Loftus-Farren

As an environmental reporter, it's not every day that I get to communicate good news—the state of our environment often feels pretty bleak. But today, at least, there is a victory to celebrate: Thanks to the persistence of a small group of prison ecology advocates, the support of their allies, and the assistance of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), prisoners rights and environmental justice advocates have a new tool to add to their activist arsenal.

This summer, the EPA added a "prisons layer" to its Environmental Justice Screening and Mapping Tool. Known as EJSCREEN for short, the tool can be used by the public to assess possible exposure to pollutants that might be present in the environment (i.e., land, air and water) where they live or work.

Keep reading... Show less
Popular
Kevin Vallely

'Rowing the Northwest Passage' Chronicles An Expedition Through the Changing North

By Kevin Vallely

In 2013 four adventurers set out on an 80-day rowboat mission through the Arctic's rapidly melting Northwest Passage. Their journey brought them face to face with the changing seas in a world of climate change. In this excerpt from adventurer Kevin Vallely's new book about the expedition, Rowing the Northwest Passage (Greystone Books), we also see how climate change has affected some of the people the team met along their journey:

An elderly woman walks toward us from the road. Tuktoyaktuk, in the Northwest Territories, is a sizable town by Arctic standards, with a full-time population of 954, but it's small enough that the bulk of the town likely knows we're here. The woman is smiling when she reaches us.

"I saw you coming in," she says. "Where you guys come from?" "We're from Vancouver," I say, my mouth still half full of food. "We started our trip in Inuvik nine days ago." Her name is Eileen Jacobsen and she's an Elder in town. She and her husband, Billy, run a sightseeing business. "You should come up to the house in the morning and have some coffee," she tells us.

Our night's sleep in the Arctic Joule is fitful; our overindulgence runs through all of us like a thunderstorm. By seven in the morning, even with both hatches open, lighting a match in the cabin would blow us out like dirt from that Siberian crater. The roar of the Jetboil pulls me out. Frank's already up, down jacket on, preparing coffee. "You like a cup?"

It's still too early to drop by Eileen Jacobsen's house, so we walk into town on the dusty main road, our ears assaulted by a cacophony of barking dogs. Dirt is the surface of choice for roads and runways in Arctic communities, as any inflexible surface like concrete would be shredded by the annual freeze–thaw cycle. Most of the town runs the length of a thin finger of land, with the ocean on one side and a protected bay on the other. About halfway down the peninsula, a cluster of wooden crosses rests in a high grass clearing, facing west. We heard about this graveyard in Inuvik. Because of melting permafrost and wave action, it's eroding into the sea, and community members have lined the shore with large rocks to forestall its demise. This entire peninsula will face this threat in the coming years. There's not much land here to hold back a hungry ocean.

We notice an elderly man in a blue winter jacket staring at us a short distance away. He's sitting outside a small wooden house and smiles as we approach. "You guys must be the rowers," he says. "Too windy to be out rowing." His jacket hood is pulled tight over his ball cap and he dons a pair of wraparound shades with yellow lenses that would better suit a racing cyclist than a village Elder. His name is Fred Wolki, and he's lived in Tuk for the last fifty years. "I grew up on my father's boat until they sent me to school in 1944, then I came here."

His father, Jim Wolki, is a well-known fox trapper who transported his pelts from Banks Island to Herschel Island aboard his ship the North Star of Herschel Island. Interestingly, we had the Arctic Joule moored right beside the North Star at the Vancouver Maritime Museum before we left. Built in San Francisco in 1935, the North Star plied the waters of the Beaufort Sea for over thirty years, her presence in Arctic waters playing an important role in bolstering Canadian Arctic sovereignty through the Cold War.

"We're curious if things have changed much here since you were a boy," Frank says.

"Well … it's getting warmer now," Fred says, shaking his head. He gestures out to the water speaking slowly and pausing for long moments between thoughts. "Right up to the 1960s … there was old ice along the coast … The ice barely moved … It was grounded along the coastline." He looks out over the shoreline, moving his arm back and forth. "They started to fade away slowly in the 1960s … icebergs … They were huge, like big islands … They were so high, like the land at the dew Line station … over there." He points to the radar dome of the long decommissioned Distant Early Warning Line station that sits on a rise of land just east of us. "It's been twenty years since we've seen one in Tuk." There's no sentimentality or anger in Fred's voice; he's just telling us his story. "It's getting warmer now … Global warming is starting to take its toll … All the permafrost is starting to melt … Water is starting to eat away our land."

I listen to his words, amazed. There's no agenda here, no vested interest, no job creation or moneymaking—just an elderly man bearing witness to his changing world.

Excerpted from Rowing the Northwest Passage: Adventure, Fear, and Awe in a Rising Sea by Kevin Vallely, published September 2017 by Greystone Books. Condensed and reproduced with permission from the publisher.

Sponsored
www.youtube.com

Hundreds Dead in Mexico After Earthquake Strikes on Anniversary of Devastating 1985 Quake

In Mexico, a massive 7.1-magnitude quake struck 100 miles southeast of Mexico City Tuesday, collapsing dozens of buildings around the capital city and trapping schoolchildren, workers and residents beneath the rubble.

At least 217 people are dead, and hundreds more are missing. Among the dead are least 21 students at a primary school in Mexico City and 15 worshipers who died during a Catholic mass when the earthquake triggered an eruption at a volcano southeast of the city.

Keep reading... Show less
Popular
Fourth St. sign under water in San Francisco. Scott Schiller/Flickr

San Francisco Becomes First Major U.S. City to Sue Fossil Fuel Industry Over Costs of Climate Change

San Francisco and Oakland are suing Chevron, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil, BP and Royal Dutch Shell—the five biggest investor-owned fossil fuel producers in the world—over the costs of climate change.

The two Californian cities join the counties of Marin, San Mateo and San Diego and the city of Imperial Beach that have taken similar legal action in recent months, the San Francisco Chronicle reports.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
www.youtube.com

Climate Alliance States Show Us What Real Leadership Looks Like

By Luis Martinez and Kit Kennedy

In a forceful show of climate leadership, Governors Andrew Cuomo (NY), Jerry Brown (CA), and Jay Inslee (WA) and former Secretary of State John Kerry came together in New York City Wednesday as part of Climate Week to celebrate the progress and growth of the U.S. Climate Alliance, the bipartisan coalition that has grown to 14 states dedicated to meeting the Paris agreement climate goal. The coalition was founded by Cuomo, Brown and Inslee after President Trump announced the U.S. intent to withdraw from Paris.

President Trump may prefer to pretend that climate change isn't real—Gov. Cuomo quipped that the Trump administration is in "the State of Denial"—but these leaders detailed the extraordinary strides they're making, in the absence of White House leadership, to slash greenhouse gas emissions and grow their economies at the same time. For New Yorkers, it's exciting to see Cuomo's leadership on clean energy and climate continue to accelerate, from setting strong renewable energy goals, to a successful push with other Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative states to further slash carbon emissions, to banning fracking.

Keep reading... Show less
www.facebook.com

Hurricane Maria Devastates Puerto Rico

By Andy Rowell

As new Hurricane Maria brings devastation to Puerto Rico, the governor of the island, Ricardo Rossello, has asked Donald Trump to declare the U.S. territory a disaster zone.

He has said that Maria could be the most damaging hurricane to hit the country in more than 100 years.

With maximum recorded wind speeds of 140 mph and rainfall of up to 25 inches or even higher, Mike Brennan, a senior hurricane specialist from the U.S. National Hurricane Center has also warned locals of flash-flooding and "punishing" rainfall. He added that the storm would remain "very dangerous" for the next couple of days.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored

mail-copy

Get EcoWatch in your inbox