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By Carey Gillam
Score another point for corporate power over protection of the public.
U.S. Rep Lamar Smith (R-Texas), chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Science, Space, & Technology, has slated a full committee hearing for Tuesday with an agenda aimed squarely at attacking some of the world's top cancer scientists.
By Carey Gillam
Three years ago this month Monsanto executives realized they had a big problem on their hands.
It was September 2014 and the company's top-selling chemical, the weed killer called glyphosate that is the foundation for Monsanto's branded Roundup products, had been selected as one among a handful of pesticides to undergo scrutiny by the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). Monsanto had spent decades fending off concerns about the safety of glyphosate and decrying scientific research indicating the chemical might cause cancer or other diseases. And even though the IARC review was still months away, Monsanto's own scientists knew what the outcome would likely be—and they knew it wouldn't be good.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Carey Gillam
In a well-orchestrated and highly coordinated media coup, Monsanto Co. and friends this week dropped a bombshell on opponents who are seeking to prove that the company's beloved Roundup herbicide causes cancer.
A widely circulated story published June 14 in the global news outlet Reuters (for which I formerly worked) laid out what appeared to be a scandalous story of hidden information and a secretive scientist, "exclusive" revelations that the story said could have altered a critical 2015 classification that associated Monsanto's Roundup to cancer and triggered waves of lawsuits against Monsanto.
IARC Scientist Reaffirms Glyphosate’s Link to Cancer as Monsanto’s Requests to Dismiss Cancer Lawsuits Denied
Dr. Kurt Straif, a section head with the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), appeared in an interview with euronews defending the agency's assessment that glyphosate probably causes cancer in humans.
"Our evaluation was a review of all the published scientific literature on glyphosate and this was done by the world's best experts on the topic that in addition don't have any conflicts of interest that could bias their assessment," Straif said.
"They concluded that, yes, glyphosate is probably carcinogenic to humans based on three strings of evidence, that is clear evidence of cancer in experimental animals, limited evidence for cancer for humans from real-world exposures, of exposed farmers, and also strong evidence that it can damage the genes from any kind of other toxicological studies."
In March 2015, the IARC concluded that glyphosate is a "probable human carcinogen," touching off an international row on the health and safety of the widely applied herbicide. However, this past May, the United Nation's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and a different regulatory body from the WHO issued a joint report concluding that the ingredient is "unlikely to pose a carcinogenic risk to humans from exposure through the diet." Unsurprisingly, the different opinions about the controversial herbicide were "welcomed" by Phil Miller, Monsanto's vice president for global regulatory and government affairs.
During the euronews interview, Straif explained why the conclusions from the IARC and the FAO/WHO about the weedkiller seem to be contradictory.
"Our classification of the cancer hazards of glyphosate still stand," he said. "We are the authority to classify cancer substances worldwide for the WHO, and it was then this other panel that looked at a very narrow angle of exposure from daily food, and then came up with the conclusion on how much of that may be safe or not."
Basically, the IARC assessment focussed on "hazard" while the other looked at "risk." David Eastmond, a toxicologist at the University of California, Riverside, explained to Wired how the terms are different: "If you have people gawking at sharks swimming around a tank in an aquarium, the sharks are a hazard, but they pose little risk. If you have a surfer on the beach with a shark, now that shark is both a hazard and a risk."
During the interview, the euronews host asked Straif which body of the WHO she should trust as a "consumer, as a farmer, as an occasional beer drinker, as somebody who likes to sit in parks that have been treated with glyphosate."
He replied, "I think it's important to understand the literature that our assessment that glyphosate can cause cancer in humans still stands, and then you have to look at the other assessments for the specific scenarios, and that is not my authority to comment on these evaluations."
Straif also hinted at possible conflicts of interest from the FAO/WHO report. When the euronews host asked the senior scientist if he was "disturbed" by credible reports of the FAO/WHO scientists allegedly receiving payoffs by Monsanto for a favorable glyphosate review, Straif replied, "It is an important topic that needs important scrutiny, yes."
Will Monsanto have to face the music about its weedkiller? Roundup cancer lawsuits have been mounting against the company, as EcoWatch reported last week, the agribusiness giant has not been able to legally run away from the growing thorn.
In court documents obtained by EcoWatch, at least one court from Hawaii and two from California have rejected Monsanto's attempts to dismiss the respective lawsuits.
For instance, last week, U.S District Judge Michael Seabright denied Monsanto's request to dismiss a lawsuit by Christine and Kenneth Sheppard, former owners of Dragons Lair Kona Coffee Farm in Hawaii.
The Sheppards claim that Monsanto falsely masked the carcinogenic risks of glyphosate and is responsible for causing Christine Sheppard's cancer, non-Hodgkins lymphoma.
As detailed by Courthouse News Service, one reason Seabright decided to reject Monsanto's dismissal considers the 2015 designation [of Roundup as a probable carcinogen] by the WHO.
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