Monsanto’s response to the World Health Organization (WHO) labeling its widely used weed killer, Roundup, as “probably” causing cancer in humans was swift – it’s junk science.
“We are outraged with this assessment,” said Robb Fraley, Monsanto’s chief technology officer. “This conclusion is inconsistent with the decades of ongoing comprehensive safety reviews by the leading regulatory authorities around the world that have concluded that all labeled uses of glyphosate are safe for human health.”
Fraley called the result selective “cherry picking” of data and “a clear example of agenda-driven bias.”
WHO’s cancer arm, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), said glyphosate, the active ingredient in the Monsanto’s herbicide Roundup, was “classified as probably carcinogenic to humans” in a report released Friday. It also said there was “limited evidence” that glyphosate was carcinogenic in humans for non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
The WHO study also linked glyphosate to DNA and chromosomal damage in mammals, and in human and animal cells in vitro. Studies of workers who had been exposed to the chemical in the U.S., Canada and Sweden found “increased risks for non-Hodgkin lymphoma that persisted after adjustment for other pesticides,” the report states.
But St. Louis, Mo.-based Monsanto, the agrochemical giant, maintained repeated safety assessments by regulatory authorities over the last three decades found the chemical was a safe, effective agricultural tool in more than 160 countries.
Monsanto’s operations in Luling include the production of Roundup. In 2008, the company announced its $196 million investment in the area to make glyphosate to increase its global capacity to produce the weed killer and other glyphosate-based herbicides.
In its announcement, Monsanto said Roundup is the largest selling herbicide brand in the world. It’s active ingredient, glyphosate, was first developed and introduced in the 1970s. The herbicide was first marketed to farmers in 1973.
This month, 17 experts from 11 countries met in Lyon, France and assessed glyphosate among five different pesticides to determine whether to classify them as carcinogens (substances that lead to cancer under certain levels of exposure). Glyphosate is a broad spectrum herbicide used in more than 750 products for agriculture, forestry, urban and home applications.
Monsanto said scientific data do not support the conclusions and called on the WHO to hold an urgent meeting to explain the findings.
According to Fraley, “Glyphosate-based herbicides on the market meet the rigorous standards set by the regulatory and health authorities who work every day to protect human health, and we want our customers and consumers to be assured of these evaluations.”
Concerns about glyphosate on food have been a hot topic of debate in the United States recently, and contributed to the passage in Vermont last year of the country’s first mandatory labeling law for foods that are genetically modified, according to media reports. Glyphosate is mainly used on crops such as corn and soybeans that are genetically modified to survive it.
WHO findings were based on studies of exposure, mostly agricultural in the United States, Canada and Sweden that were published since 2001.
Monsanto’s Fraley maintained IARC’s work “is not a study, and it references no new data or studies” and does not “establish a link between glyphosate and an increase in cancer.”
According to Philip Miller, Monsanto’s vice president of global regulatory affairs, the German government completed a rigorous, four-year evaluation of glyphosate for the European Union and concluded “glyphosate was unlikely to pose a carcinogenic risk in humans.” Miller said the evaluation included data IARC considered in its assessment.Miller added, “We don’t know how IARC could reach a conclusion that is such a dramatic departure from the conclusion reached by all regulatory agencies around the globe.”
The U.S. government has said the herbicide is considered safe, and the Environmental Protection Agency approved a Monsanto request to increase legal tolerance levels for glyphosate in 2013.