A U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) advisory panel is meeting this week (December 13-16) to determine the fate of glyphosate, the main active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide. Will the panel heed the warnings of independent scientists? Or will it give more credence to the testimony (propaganda) delivered by Monsanto, the company that annually sells nearly $5 billion worth of its flagship herbicide, Roundup, grossing nearly $2 billion in profits.
You can listen to the EPA meeting on glyphosate and cancer December 13-16. Call in number: 866-299-3188. Passcode: 202 555 6831. Instructions to access the webcast are here. So far, all signs point to EPA caving to Monsanto, as the panel reviews the science that links the main ingredient in the world’s No. 1 herbicide with cancer. Sadly, it doesn’t appear that the Obama Administration plans to save U.S. farmers and agricultural workers from the ravages of Non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
The EPA has a long history of protecting Monsanto’s profits. That’s what happened in 1991, when the EPA received enough pushback from Monsanto to reverse its 1985 decision that classified glyphosate as a possible human carcinogen, based on the presence of kidney tumors in male mice.
In 2009, there was new hope that this injustice could be corrected when the EPA announced that once every 15 years glyphosate would have to be reviewed before it could be re-registered, setting up a formal review that should have taken place in 2015—but has been delayed numerous times.
Meanwhile, in March 2015, a major breakthrough occurred when 17 scientists at the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) released the results of their assessment of the carcinogenicity of glyphosate, concluding unanimously that the chemical is a probable human carcinogen. The EPA said it would consider the IARC finding in its own review of glyphosate.
But in May 2016, when the EPA “mistakenly” released its assessment of glyphosate, the agency’s findings contradicted those of the IARC. The leak appeared intended to give Monsanto ammunition in its fight to keep its profitable Roundup on the market. (In 2015, Monsanto made nearly $4.76 billion in sales and $1.9 billion in gross profits from herbicide products, mostly Roundup.)
After the leak, the EPA tried to restore legitimacy to the process by insisting that it hadn’t yet made a decision on glyphosate’s carcinogenicity and convening a Scientific Advisory Panel to review the matter. Then in September, the EPA released “Glyphosate Issue Paper: Evaluation of Carcinogenic Potential,” a paper prepared specifically for the agency’s Scientific Advisory Panel.
An analysis of the paper, conducted by Food & Water Watch researcher Amanda Starbuck, exposed several deficiencies in the science the EPA used to reach its conclusion that glyphosate is not likely to be carcinogenic to humans:
1. More than half of the studies were submitted by the industry. The EPA looked at 131 studies to decide if Roundup causes cancer, but 71 were unpublished industry studies.
2. Independent studies were 30 times more likely to find glyphosate's toxicity than those from the industry—but the EPA ultimately concluded that there was “no convincing evidence” of glyphosate’s toxicity.
3. The EPA used a “weight of evidence” approach, which means that heavy industry slant overwhelmed the independent published findings—including an independent study that linked glyphosate with the growth of breast cancer cells.
Jennifer Sass, Senior Scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council’s Health Program says the EPA’s science is so poor that:
EPA violated its own Cancer Guidelines by dismissing evidence of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (NHL) in people. Even a meta-analysis of many epidemiologic studies that was sponsored by the agrochemical industry reported a statistically significant risk of NHL cancers when glyphosate-exposed individuals were compared with individuals never exposed to glyphosate. IARC’s analysis reported similar results. EPA’s Cancer Guidelines are consistent with calling this “suggestive evidence of carcinogenic potential” for “evidence of a positive response in studies whose power, design, or conduct limits the ability to draw a confident conclusion”.
Knowing that the EPA’s weak science wasn’t up to a serious review, CropLife, the trade association that lobbies on behalf of Monsanto and the rest of the pesticide industry, launched a campaign to discredit scientists chosen for the EPA’s Scientific Review Panel. CropLife succeeded in getting EPA to cancel the panel’s October meeting, remove an esteemed epidemiologist from the panel, and reschedule the meeting for December 13-16.
The EPA has received 254,392 comments from the public in advance of the meeting. Nearly all of the people who submitted comments support a finding that glyphosate is a probable carcinogen, including the 119,857 members of the Organic Consumers Association who signed a petition asking the EPA to follow the World Health Organization’s finding. Organizations that organized their members to submit public comments include Beyond Pesticides, Center for Biological Diversity, Center for Food Safety, Consumers Union, Food Democracy Now, Food & Water Watch, Friends of the Earth, GMO Free USA, Moms Across America, Natural Resources Defense Council, Pesticide Action Network North America, and U.S. Public Interest Research Group.
Alexis Baden-Mayer is political director for the Organic Consumers Association.