UN Says Glyphosate 'Unlikely' to Cause Cancer, Industry Ties to Report Called Into Question
Does glyphosate cause cancer or not? A new joint report from experts at the United Nation's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Health Organization's (WHO) Meeting on Pesticide Residues (JMPR) has concluded that the controversial chemical is "unlikely to pose a carcinogenic risk to humans from exposure through the diet."
The new review appears to contradict the WHO's International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), which concluded in March 2015 that glyphosate "probably" causes cancer in humans.
So is there a mixup between the two bodies? In a Q&A issued alongside the new report, the WHO acknowledged that the conclusions arrived at by the IARC and the FAO/JMPR were "different, yet complementary." The IARC assessed glyphosate as a "hazard" while the joint group looked at "risk."
The WHO said that while the "IARC reviews published studies to identify potential cancer hazards, it does not estimate the level of risk to the population associated with exposure to the hazard." On the other hand, the JMPR "conducts an evaluation or a re-evaluation of the safety of that chemical as it is used in agriculture and occurs in food."
Wired further explained the differences between the two assessments:
The IARC studies whether chemicals can cause cancer under any possible situation—realistic or not—while the joint meeting's report looks at whether glyphosate can cause cancer in real-life conditions, like if you eat cereal every morning made from corn treated with glyphosate. One of these reports is, by design, much more relevant to your life than the other.
The IARC is also, by design, not supposed to make recommendations to the public. It assesses “hazard," which in scientific jargon, means something very different than “risk." David Eastmond, a toxicologist at the University of California, Riverside, uses sharks to illustrate the difference. 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.
To the IARC, a shark has sharp teeth and powerful jaws, and the agency doesn't care if you're at the beach or at an aquarium. “The problem with using hazard is that it may bear no immediate relation to anything in the real world," says Geoffrey Kabat, a cancer epidemiologist at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine.
The FAO/JMPR also said that glyphosate is unlikely to be genotoxic in humans, which means it won't harm a cell's genetic material and lead to cancer. According to the groups, glyphosate has an acceptable daily intake of up to 1 milligram for every kilogram of body weight. Two other pesticides reviewed by the committee, diazinon and malathion, were also found to be unlikely to be carcinogenic.
Glyphosate is the main ingredient in Monsanto's blockbuster product, Roundup, and is also found in herbicides manufactured by Syngenta and Dow. The chemical is applied to “Roundup Ready" crops around that world that are genetically modified to resist applications of the powerful weedkiller.
Monsanto has vehemently defended the safety of the product ever since the IARC issued their report last year and has demanded a retraction from WHO. Yesterday, the St. Louis-based company issued a statement following the new review, saying they were "not surprised by JMPR's positive conclusion."
“We welcome this rigorous assessment of glyphosate by another program of the WHO, which is further evidence that this important herbicide does not cause cancer," Phil Miller, Monsanto's vice president for global regulatory and government affairs, said. “IARC's classification was inappropriate and inconsistent with the science on glyphosate. Based on the overwhelming weight of evidence, the JMPR has reaffirmed the findings of regulatory agencies around the world that glyphosate is unlikely to pose a cancer risk."
Greenpeace EU has questioned whether the new assessment from the FAO/JMPR has been muddied with industry ties.
In a press release, the environmental group alleges that at least two experts involved in the evaluation, Alan Boobis and Angelo Moretto, have ties to the International Life Sciences Institute (ILSI) in Europe, which "receives a majority of its operating and research funding from private companies, including glyphosate producers Dow and Monsanto," and that "ILSI's Health and Environmental Sciences Institute (HESI) is primarily funded by private companies, including glyphosate producers Dow, Monsanto and Syngenta."
Alan Boobis is currently the Vice-President of ILSI Europe. He is the co-chair of the RISK21 project run by ILSI's Health and Environmental Sciences Institute (HESI). Boobis has been an active member of ILSI over many years and also acted as a consultant for companies such as Sumitomo Chemical.
Angelo Moretto is a member of the steering team of the RISK21 project. He is also a member of the HESI Board of Trustees. Moretto resigned from an EFSA panel on pesticides after reportedly failing to declare a financial interest related to the assessment of chemical substances.
Food-industry watchdog group U.S. Right to Know (USRTK) also highlighted in a report posted last week that the ILSI's board of trustees includes executives from Monsanto, Syngenta, DuPont, Nestle and others. The Institute also counts a long list of global food and chemical corporations as part of its long list of member and supporting companies.
According to the USRTK report:
Internal ILSI documents, obtained by a state public records request, suggest that ILSI has been generously funded by the agrichemical industry. One document that appears to be ILSI's 2012 major donor list shows total contributions of $2.4 million, with more than $500,000 each from CropLife International [an international agribusiness trade association] and from Monsanto.
USRTK also named JMPR panel member Aldert Piersma, a senior scientist at the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment in the Netherlands and an advisor to ILSI's HESI projects.
A coalition of environmental and consumer groups—Natural Resources Defense Council, Friends of the Earth US, Friends of the Earth Europe, the Center for Biological Diversity, the Center for Food Safety, Pesticide Action Network of North America, Pesticide Action Network UK, Food & Water Watch and Toxic Free North Carolina—signed a joint letter in June to urge the WHO to "ensure that the panel is free from conflicts and other biases that may unduly influence the work of the panel."
"The JMPR's analysis may have significant impacts to those with a financial interest in selling glyphosate-based products, thus we are very concerned that several members of the task force who may have conflicts of interest," said Lori Ann Burd, Environmental Health Director at the Center for Biological Diversity.
“Time and time again we have seen corporate interests influence major decisions affecting the health of consumers and the environment," Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch, said. "We will not stand by and watch WHO-IARC's conclusion on glyphosate become watered down due to the presence of task force members tied to major biotech firms. Farmers, farmworkers and communities who live and work near farms sprayed with glyphosate are depending on a rigorous, independent review of this chemical and the WHO must provide it."
Greenpeace EU also alleges that most scientists involved in EFSA's glyphosate assessment refused to be named.
“The agencies contradicting the WHO cancer warning seem to either rely on officials who prefer not to be named, or lack a watertight policy to protect their impartiality," Greenpeace EU food policy director Franziska Achterberg said. "Any decision affecting millions of people should be based on fully transparent and independent science that isn't tied to corporate interests. It would be irresponsible to ignore the warnings on glyphosate and to re-licence this pesticide without any restrictions to protect the public and the environment."
Industry ties raise questions about UN body assessing #glyphosate cancer risk https://t.co/JPdLLdtm6C #Roundup https://t.co/VbUWjT1oc6— Greenpeace EU (@Greenpeace EU)1463401911.0
Glyphosate is at the forefront of major debate in the U.S. and the UK.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which has reviewed glyphosate several times before and concluded it has "low toxicity for humans," is at the center of an investigation after the EPA's Cancer Assessment Review Committee published then suddenly pulled a report online last month about glyphosate concluding that the chemical is not likely carcinogenic to humans. The EPA said that the report was “inadvertently" released and its "assessment will be peer reviewed and completed by end of 2016."
Monsanto is also facing a mounting number of glyphosate-cancer lawsuits, including a new one filed by four Nebraskan agricultural workers who claim that Roundup gave them non-Hodgkin lymphoma after many years of exposure. The plaintiffs have also accused Monsanto of purposely misleading consumers about the safety of its $4.8 billion product.
Meanwhile in Europe, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) issued their own report on glyphosate in November saying that it is "unlikely to pose a carcinogenic hazard to humans," contradicting the IARC's report. The opposing conclusions have touched off intense controversy as the weedkiller is due to for a decision on re-licensing in the European Union.
Later this week, the European Commission—the executive body of the European Union—will meet to discuss relicensing of glyphosate in the EU. As EcoWatch reported, the commission reportedly plans to 'OK' the chemical for another nine years despite opposition from European Parliament, which voted on April 13 to oppose EU relicensing. Countries such as France, Sweden, Italy, the Netherlands and now Germany, as well as 1.4 million people have called on an EU ban of glyphosate.
Glyphosate is the “most widely applied pesticide worldwide," and it is so ubiquitous that traces of the chemical can be found in human urine. The Green Party of European Parliament recently announced results of their "MEPee" test and found that 48 MEPs from 13 different European Union countries tested positive for glyphosate reside in their urine.
"On average, the MEPs had 1.7 micrograms/liter of glyphosate in their urine, 17 times higher than the European drinking water norm (0.1 microgram/litre). This means that everyone we tested was way above the limit for residues of pesticides in drinking water," the party noted.
Results of Glyphosate Pee Test Are in 'And It's Not Good News' https://t.co/WoVS1BSn8S @TrueFoodNow @GMWatch— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1463088909.0
The experiment was inspired by a German study “Urinale 2015," which sampled glyphosate concentrations in urine from more than 2,000 participants and detected glyphosate concentrations in urine between five and 42 times over the maximum value of residues for drinking water in Europe.
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Fireworks Can Trigger Flashbacks<p>Hyperarousal, a core component of PTSD, occurs when a person is hyper-alert to any sign of threat – constantly on edge, easily startled and continuously screening the environment.</p><p>Imagine, for instance, stepping down the stairs in the dark after hearing a noise; you're worried an intruder might be downstairs. Then a totally unpredictable loud sound explodes right outside your window.</p><p>For people with PTSD, that sound – reminiscent of gunfire, a thunderstorm or a car crash – <a href="https://theconversation.com/veterans-refugees-and-victims-of-war-crimes-are-all-vulnerable-to-ptsd-130144" target="_blank">can cause</a> a panic attack or trigger flashbacks, a sensory experience that makes it seem as if the old trauma is happening here and now. Flashbacks can be so severe that combat veterans may suddenly drop to the ground, the same way they would when an explosion took place in combat. Later, the experience can trigger nightmares, insomnia or worsening of other PTSD symptoms.</p><p>Those of us who set off fireworks need to ask ourselves: Are those few minutes of fun worth the hours, days, or weeks of torment that will begin for some of our friends and neighbors – including many who put their lives on the line to protect us?</p>
Who Else Is Affected?<p>Millions of others, though not diagnosed with PTSD, may similarly be affected by fireworks. <a href="https://adaa.org/about-adaa/press-room/facts-statistics" target="_blank">One in five Americans</a> have an anxiety disorder, many with symptoms of hyperarousal. Also impacted are those with autism or developmental disabilities; they find it difficult to cope with the noise, or just the drastic change from life routines. Then there are people who have to work, holiday or not: nurses, physicians and first responders, who have to be up at 4 a.m. for a 30-hour shift.</p><h3>How to Reduce the Negative Impact</h3><p>There are ways to reduce how fireworks affect others:</p><ul><li>For those with PTSD, the unexpected nature of fireworks is probably the worst part. So at least make it as predictable as possible. Do it in designated areas during designated times. Don't explode one, for instance, two hours after the designated time window. And avoid setting them off <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/society/2018/jul/04/fireworks-ptsd-fourth-of-july-veterans-shooting-survivors" target="_blank">on the 3rd</a>. People are less prepared then.</li><li>If you're aware that a veteran or trauma survivor lives in the neighborhood, move the noise as far as possible from their home and give them prior warning. Consider putting a sign in your front yard noting the time you'll set the fireworks.</li><li>Remember, it doesn't have to be super loud to make it fun. Consider using <a href="https://thehill.com/opinion/energy-environment/504964-its-time-for-silent-fireworks" target="_blank">silent fireworks</a>. And you don't have to be the one who lights the fireworks. Simply enjoy watching while your city or township does it safely.</li></ul>
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By Jeff Berardelli
For the past year, some of the most up-to-date computer models from the world's top climate modeling groups have been "running hot" – projecting that global warming may be even more extreme than earlier thought. Data from some of the model runs has been confounding scientists because it challenges decades of consistent projections.
International Effort to Evaluate Climate Models<p>For the past 25 years the international community has been evaluating and comparing the world's most sophisticated climate models produced by various teams at universities, research centers, and government agencies. The effort is organized by the World Climate Research Programme under the United Nations World Meteorological Organization.</p><p>Climate models are complicated computer programs composed of millions of lines of code that calculate the physical properties and interactions between the main climate forces like the atmosphere, oceans, and solar input. But models also go a lot further, incorporating other systems like ice sheets, forests, and the biosphere, to name a few. The models are then used to simulate the real-world climate system and project how certain changes, like added pollution or land-use changes, will alter the climate.</p><p>Every few years there is a new comprehensive international evaluation called the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project (CMIP). In the sixth such effort, known as CMIP6 and now under way, experts are reviewing about 100 models.</p><p>Information gleaned from this effort will act as a scientific foundation for the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) next major assessment report, scheduled for release in 2021. The goal of the report – the sixth in 30 years – is to inform the international community about how much the climate has changed, and, importantly, how much change can be expected in coming decades.</p>
A Conundrum Emerges<p>Over the past year, the CMIP6 collection of models being reviewed threw researchers an unexpected curveball: a significant number of the climate model runs showed substantially more global warming than previous model versions had projected. If accurate, the international climate goals would be nearly impossible to achieve, and there would be significantly more extreme impacts worldwide.</p><p>A foundational experiment in every report addresses "sensitivity": If you double levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) that were in the air before the Industrial Revolution, how much warming do the models show? This doubling is not expected for a few more decades, but it is a quick way to communicate the critical role of greenhouse gases in changing the climate.</p><p>The amount of CO2 in the atmosphere has increased by 35% since the 1800s because of the burning of fossil fuels. As a result, global temperatures have already increased by more than 2 degrees Fahrenheit.</p><p>In the first IPCC assessment report, published in 1990, the answer to that question about the impact of doubling carbon dioxide gave a fairly wide range of results – between 2.7-8 degrees F of global warming. Since then, four more assessments issued six to seven years apart reached nearly the exact same conclusion on sensitivity.</p><p>But that sensitivity may, for the first time, change significantly in next year's assessment. Why? Because starting last year, numerous models in the CMIP6 collection displayed even bigger spikes in temperature upon doubling of CO2 concentrations. We're in serious trouble if the climate sensitivity falls in the mid or upper range of the previous assessments. But if the new, higher estimates are correct, the impacts on civilization would be catastrophic.</p>
In the above CarbonBrief interactive visualization, the bars offer a comparison in the range of sensitivity in the CMIP5 models (gray) and CMIP6 models (blue).
New and Encouraging Evidence Is Emerging<p>At first, scientists were uncertain whether the new model runs were on to something, so the international modeling community dug in to produce multiple studies. The results are not yet conclusive, but a gradual collective sigh of relief seems to be materializing.</p><p>"Evidence is emerging from multiple directions that the models which show the greatest warming in the CMIP6 ensemble are likely too warm," explains Dr. Gavin Schmidt, director of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies.</p><p>For example, <a href="https://www.earth-syst-dynam-discuss.net/esd-2020-23/" target="_blank">a study</a> released April 28 evaluated the past performance of the models making up the CMIP6 ensemble. The team assigned weights to each model based upon historical performance of their warming projections, weighing the poorer performing models less. By doing so, both the mean warming and the range of warming scenarios in the CMIP6 ensemble decreased, meaning the warmest models were the ones with weaker historical performance. This result supports a finding that a subset of the models are too warm.</p><p>That conclusion is supported by another new study evaluating one particular model – the Community Earth System Model (CESM2) – that showed greater warming. Using that model, the researchers simulated the climate in the early Eocene era, about 50 million years ago, when rainforests thrived in the Arctic and Antarctic. The CESM2 simulated a historical climate that seems way too warm compared with what is known about that era from geological data, indicating that the model is likely also too warm in its future projections.</p><p>Two other recent studies of the CMIP6 models being evaluated use clever analysis methods to <a href="https://www.google.com/url?q=https://www.earth-syst-dynam-discuss.net/esd-2019-86/&sa=D&ust=1589209938203000&usg=AFQjCNHYwFB-1KqndGfJ4sXdrrm9DpbLaQ" target="_blank">narrow the range</a> of future warming projections and also <a href="https://www.google.com/url?q=https://advances.sciencemag.org/content/6/12/eaaz9549&sa=D&ust=1589209938203000&usg=AFQjCNEhKY1YZ19qgjSZ_hJM14JmzqXOXw" target="_blank">reduce the projected warming</a> of the CMIP6 models by 10 to 15%.</p><p>Through the intensive research spurred by the CMIP6 climate-sensitivity curveball, scientists have been able to turn a confounding challenge into a confidence builder, providing even greater certainty than they had before in both the abilities of the climate science community and in the computer models used. Moreover, the experience has helped unearth uncertainties remaining in the modeling process.</p><p>Experts conclude much of this uncertainty probably lies in the complexity of clouds. "We have been looking as a community at why the models with greater warming are doing what they are doing – and it's tied to cloud feedbacks in the southern mid-latitudes mostly," explains Schmidt.</p><p>In fact, <a href="https://advances.sciencemag.org/content/6/26/eaba1981" target="_blank">a new study</a> addressing the increased sensitivity was published in Science Advances stating, "Cloud feedbacks and cloud-aerosol interactions are the most likely contributors to the high values and increased range of ECS [sensitivity] in CMIP6."</p>
Understanding the Complexity of Clouds<p>It's long been known in climate modeling circles that cloud processes and interactions are a potential weak link for climate modeling. That reality has been brought front and center by the urgent challenges posed during this CMIP6 evaluation period, but the current evaluation of models also provides an opportunity for discovery and improvement.</p><p>Cloud complexity comes from the reality that clouds have a multitude of sizes, altitudes, and textures. Some clouds cool Earth by providing shade, reflecting sunlight back into space. Others act like a blanket, trapping heat and warming the world.</p><p>Given that about <a href="https://www.nasa.gov/vision/earth/lookingatearth/icesat_light.html" target="_blank">70% of the globe</a> is covered by clouds at any given time, it's no surprise that they play an integral role in regulating the climate. The challenge is to figure out which types of clouds will increase, which will decrease, and what the net effect will be on cooling or warming as the climate changes.</p><p><a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41561-019-0310-1" target="_blank">One study</a> last year reached an alarming conclusion: Left unchecked, the release of CO2 into the atmosphere may lead to a tipping point where shallow low clouds disappear – leading to runaway, catastrophic warming of nearly 15 degrees F. While scientists see that outcome as only a remote possibility, it drives home the urgent need to better understand clouds.</p><p>"We have a saying at NOAA: It isn't rocket science – it's much, much harder than that," quips Dr. Chris Fairall, ATOMIC's lead investigator. "One of the major problems for modeling is there is not clean separation of scales." The photo below is one that Fairall took from the NOAA P-3 aircraft.</p>
Investigating the Secrets of Clouds<p>To address the urgent question about the dynamics and role of clouds in a warming world, NOAA and European partners launched their ongoing research effort unprecedented in scale. The U.S. contribution, ATOMIC – short for Atlantic Tradewind Ocean-Atmosphere Mesoscale Interaction Campaign – is an international science mission that was featured recently on "<a href="https://www.cbsnews.com/video/study-aims-to-examine-links-between-climate-change-and-clouds/" target="_blank">CBS This Morning: Saturday</a>."</p>
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