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Glyphosate Is Linked to Cancer, but If Big Ag Gets Its Way, It May Still Be Okay in Food

Nina Hwang at NRDC has been beating the bushes at the World Health Organization's food and agriculture operations lately, turning up all sorts of indescretions with their review of pesticides. This is from Nina:

In Europe, the amount of pesticide residues that are allowed on food is determined by recommendations from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the World Health Organization (WHO) at a Joint Meeting on Pesticide Residues (JMPR). Right now their big discussions are all about glyphosate. Glyphosate is the most widely used herbicide in the world, and is the main ingredient in the weed killer Roundup, which is applied to over 150 food and non-food crops. In addition to its agriculture uses, glyphosate is also commonly used on lawns, gardens, and parks where pets and kids play.

Unfortunately, glyphosate is linked to cancer (Group 2A 'probable' human carcinogen) by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), the prestigious cancer assessment arm of the World Health Organization. But, cancer-causing chemicals have friends in high places. Monsanto is the world's leading producer of glyphosate, with annual sales of Roundup netting about two billion US dollars. Unsurprisingly, the company quickly fired back with a statement on how the company is "outraged" at IARC's "agenda-driven bias" in its "irresponsible" decision-making. [As a side, since IARC announced its decision, a group of US citizens have filed a class action lawsuit against Monsanto for falsifying safety claims, and a group of Chinese citizens have filed a lawsuit against the Chinese government for hiding Monsanto's toxicity studies from the public.]

In Europe, if a chemical is linked to cancer, then absolutely none of the chemical is allowed to remain as residue on our food. Zero tolerance. That seems reasonable - like zero tolerance for cancer. So, JMPR has assembled a task force to reevaluate IARC's assessment and advise whether or not JMPR's assessment from 2011 should be revised. NRDC and colleagues sent a letter to JMPR raising two main concerns:

>    First, JMPR should not over-turn or attempt to re-do IARC's cancer assessment. IARC's conclusions were the result of an international panel of experts that conducted a comprehensive scientific review of evidence from laboratory animal studies, mechanistic cell studies, and epidemiologic evidence of cancers in people (see details in a previous blog). IARC found links between non-Hodgkin lymphoma and glyphosate exposure.

>    Second, JMPR advisory panel members have financial ties to Big Ag. According to publically available documents, three of eight panel members have financial and professional ties to the chemical industry, including Monsanto.

Our concerns are further detailed in our letter, which was mailed to the WHO and shared with the public (see press release) on June 29, 2015. Unfortunately, our concerns seem to have fallen on deaf ears. The WHO sent us a five paragraph response letter that does little more than acknowledge the receipt of our letter and remind us that the WHO systematically "evaluates any declared interest carefully." No explanation was given to us as to whether or how our particular concerns were taken into consideration.

JMPR's advisory panel is due to report back to JMPR later this month, September 2015. How could the financial conflicts of interest not cloud the panel's evaluation of glyphosate's cancer classification? That's why NRDC is concerned that the panel's recommendation to JMPR could seriously undermine IARC's conclusions and result in the continued exposure of the public to glyphosate.

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