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.
YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE
New fossils uncovered in Argentina may belong to one of the largest animals to have walked on Earth.
- Groundbreaking Fossil Shows Prehistoric 15-Foot Reptile Tried to ... ›
- Skull of Smallest Known Dinosaur Found in 99-Million-Year Old Amber ›
- Giant 'Toothed' Birds Flew Over Antarctica 40 Million Years Ago ... ›
- World's Second-Largest Egg Found in Antarctica Probably Hatched ... ›
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
- Pruitt Guts the Clean Power Plan: How Weak Will the New EPA ... ›
- It's Official: Trump Administration to Repeal Clean Power Plan ... ›
- 'Deadly' Clean Power Plan Replacement ›
By Jonathan Runstadler and Kaitlin Sawatzki
Over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, researchers have found coronavirus infections in pet cats and dogs and in multiple zoo animals, including big cats and gorillas. These infections have even happened when staff were using personal protective equipment.
- Gorillas in San Diego Test Positive for Coronavirus - EcoWatch ›
- Wildlife Rehabilitators Are Overwhelmed During the Pandemic. In ... ›
- Coronavirus Pandemic Linked to Destruction of Wildlife and World's ... ›
- Utah Mink Becomes First Wild Animal to Test Positive for Coronavirus ›
By Peter Giger
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>
By John R. Platt
The period of the 45th presidency will go down as dark days for the United States — not just for the violent insurgency and impeachment that capped off Donald Trump's four years in office, but for every regressive action that came before.
- Biden Announces $2 Trillion Climate and Green Recovery Plan ... ›
- How Biden and Kerry Can Rebuild America's Climate Leadership ... ›
- Biden's EPA Pick Michael Regan Urged to Address Environmental ... ›
- How Joe Biden's Climate Plan Compares to the Green New Deal ... ›