Quantcast
Editor's Pick
Glyphosate is the active ingredient in Monsanto's Roundup. Flickr

Monsanto Accuses IARC Scientist of Withholding Glyphosate Data in Cancer Risk Assessment

The controversy over the health risks of glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto's weedkiller Roundup, has taken a surprising turn.

Dr. Aaron Blair—a lead researcher on the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) committee that classified glyphosate as "probably carcinogenic"—has been accused of "deliberately" withholding unpublished research that he admitted would have altered the cancer agency's widely cited 2015 review.


The news comes as a surprising development in light of Monsanto's multi-district cancer lawsuits. Plaintiffs across the U.S. claim that they or their loved ones developed non-Hodgkin's lymphoma due to exposure to glyphosate, pointing to the IARC cancer classification.

But a new Reuters investigation could rock the ongoing cases. Citing obtained documents, reporter Kate Kelland writes:

"Blair knew the unpublished research found no evidence of a link between glyphosate and cancer. In a sworn deposition given in March this year in connection with the case, Blair also said the data would have altered IARC's analysis. He said it would have made it less likely that glyphosate would meet the agency's criteria for being classed as 'probably carcinogenic.'"

The IARC never considered the data because the agency has a rule against using unpublished data to asses a substance's carcinogenicity. The data came from the Agricultural Health Study (AHS), on which Blair was a senior researcher, and sat unpublished for two years before IARC assessed glyphosate. He told Reuters that the information was not published in time because there was too much to fit into one scientific paper.

However, Monsanto told Reuters that Blair deliberately concealed the data. The company did not provide specific evidence of it being hidden. Two other experts, not connected to Monsanto, also did not understand why the data was not published.

Blair called the accusations that he deliberately did not publish the data to avoid consideration by IARC "absolutely incorrect." And Reuters reported the IARC is "sticking with its findings" despite the new data about glyphosate.

The current debate over glyphosate all started in March 2015 when the IARC, the cancer research arm of the World Health Organization (WHO), concluded that the herbicide should be classified as "probably carcinogenic for humans." However, other international bodies have refuted the IARC's conclusion, including the European Food Safety Authority as well as the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations—another body of the WHO. Monsanto has also adamantly contested the IARC's findings.

The IARC's conclusion has stirred an international row, from the European Union's decision on whether to renew glyphosate's license over health risks, to California's decision in March to designate the herbicide as a known human carcinogen under the state's Proposition 65.

EcoWatch reached out to experts and consumer groups for comment on the Reuters story.

Michael Hansen, senior scientist at Consumers Union, said the Reuters report was a "grossly misleading story attacking Dr. Aaron Blair" and criticized the way the Agricultural Health Study cited in the story was interpreted. Reuters "omits the fact that the data from the other epidemiology studies (all case control studies), and the meta-analyses, clearly show a statistically significant increase in non-Hodgkin's lymphoma with glyphosate exposure."

"In addition, the animal studies are very clear and show increases in cancer, including lymphomas," he noted. "An analysis by Dr. Christopher Portier late last month ... demonstrated that there were eight additional tumor sites with statistically significant increases due to glyphosate exposure, that European Food Safety Agency and European Chemical Agency failed to identify due to their scientifically flawed analysis."

Hansen also said that Reuters discussion of the AHS ignores the unknown latency period for non-Hodgkin's lymphoma exposure—or how long it takes between initial glyphosate exposure and the development of the cancer, and we don't know how many years the AHS considers.

"Even if the updated AHS study did follow the population for 20 years, I'd argue that it still not would be definitive, since the latency could be a bit longer, say up to 25 years," he said.

"Bottom line, this misleading article strongly supports Monsanto's view that glyphosate is not associated with NHL."

Genna Reed, science and policy analyst at the Union of Concerned Scientists' Center for Science and Democracy, defended IARC's assessment.

"It is the responsibility of the independent experts composing IARC's working groups to apply rigorous standards and select appropriate evidence to best analyze the risks of possible carcinogens," Reed said.

"Monsanto's effort to advance unpublished data and imply that a working group member intentionally concealed glyphosate data furthers its concerted campaign to undermine the credibility of IARC and to shift scrutiny away from its flagship herbicide."

Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch, said, "the latest development in the battle over glyphosate shows once again why we need a different approach to evaluating the safety of the chemicals used in our food system."

"Rather than pitting individual scientific studies against each other in a courtroom after people are sick, we need a precautionary approach that would require long term safety testing of GMO crops and the herbicides used to grow them before they are allowed on the market," Hauter concluded.

Ken Roseboro, editor and publisher of The Organic & Non-GMO Report, believes "the bigger story is that 300 plus million pounds of glyphosate are used in the U.S. each year and that it is increasingly found in air, rain and streams as well as our foods and bodies."

"There is also a mounting body of research documenting its negative impacts on soil and beneficial soil organisms, plants, insects such as bees and human beings," Roseboro added. "People who say glyphosate is safe remind me of 'experts' in the 1960s who said tobacco is safe. Some day people will look back and be horrified that pesticide poisons like glyphosate were used to produce our food."

Show Comments ()
Sponsored
The two young Iowa vandals knocked over 50 hives and exposed the bees to deadly winter temperatures. Colby Stopa / Flickr

Two Boys Charged With Killing Half a Million Honeybees in Iowa

Two boys were charged with killing more than a half million bees at a honey business in Iowa last month.

"All of the beehives on the honey farm were destroyed and approximately 500,000 bees perished in the frigid temperatures," Sioux City police said in a release.

Keep reading... Show less

Are Microwaves Really as Bad for the Environment as Cars?

According to many headlines blared around the Internet this week, "microwaves are as damaging to the environment as cars." But this misleading information, based on a new study from the University of Manchester, hopefully doesn't make you feel guilty about zapping your next Hot Pocket.

The research, published in the journal Science of the Total Environment, found that microwave ovens across the European Union generate as much carbon dioxide as nearly 7 million cars and consume an estimated 9.4 terawatts per hour of electricity per year. Okay, that sounds like a lot. But also consider that there are about 130 million microwaves in Europe and some 291 million vehicles on its roads.

Keep reading... Show less

Monsanto's Roundup Destroys Healthy Microbes in Humans and in Soils

By Julie Wilson

We're only beginning to learn the importance of healthy gut bacteria to our overall health—and the relationship between healthy soil and the human microbiome.

We know that the human microbiome, often referred to as our "second brain," plays a key role in our health, from helping us digest the food we eat, to boosting our brain function and regulating our immune systems.

Keep reading... Show less
Interior Sec. Ryan Zinke refused to meet with National Park System Advisory Board members last year, prompting most of them to quit. Gage Skidmore / Flickr

From National Parks to the EPA, Trump Administration Stiff-Arms Science Advisers

By Elliott Negin

The Trump administration's testy relationship with science reminds me of that old saying: Advice is least heeded when most needed.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Health
Shutterstock

8 Ways to Reduce Your Exposure to Hormone-Disrupting Chemicals

By Caroline Cox

What keeps you up at night? Sick kids, restless pets, the latest tragedy on the evening news, politics, wars, earthquakes, hurricanes, fires, money troubles, job stress, and family health and wellbeing? There is no shortage of concerns that make us all toss and turn.

But what keeps the chemical industry up at night? A couple of decades ago a senior Shell executive was asked this very question. The answer? Endocrine disruption.

Keep reading... Show less
Dave Atkinson / Flickr / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Why We'll March Again

This Sunday marks the first anniversary of the Women's March that happened on the day after Donald Trump's inauguration—the largest protest march in our nation's history. The Sierra Club was there that day, and we'll be there this year, too—at a significant moment for women's rights and justice.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Nils Axel-Morner gives an interview on the fringe of a meeting in Rome in October 2017. YouTube

Climate Denial Group Linked to Trump Admin Is Funding 'Research' on Sea Levels in Questionable Journals

By Graham Readfearn

A climate science denial group with links to President Trump's administration has been funding work to sow doubt that low-lying islands in the Pacific are at risk from rising sea levels.

The two researchers being funded—one of which is a well-known climate science denier—have targeted little known "open access" journals with dubious quality controls to get their work published, DeSmog has found.

Keep reading... Show less

It's Official: 2017 Was the Hottest Year Without an El Niño

The United Nations announced Thursday that 2017 was the hottest year on record without an El Niño event kicking up global annual temperatures.

Last year's average surface temperatures—driven by carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions—was 1.1 degree Celsius above pre-industrial times, putting the world on course to breach the internationally agreed "1.5°C" temperature barrier to avoid dangerous climate change set by the 2015 Paris climate agreement.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored

mail-copy

The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!