Northern California Record

Saturday, August 17, 2019

Suspicion and threats of increasing legislation loom in the midst of glyphosate debate

By Carrie Bradon | Apr 13, 2018

SACRAMENTO – A recent article published by Reuters calls into question the safety of glyphosate, a common weed killer, which, up until now, has only been challenged by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC).

The IARC, a semi-autonomous part of the World Health Organization, concluded in 2015 that glyphosate, the active ingredient in the common weed killer RoundUp, was likely to be a human carcinogen, yet the report was not published then, which has called into question the validity of IARC's conclusion.

The parties that are questioning the legitimacy of the IARC conclusion, however, are hardly impartial, as one is Monsanto, the owner of RoundUp, and the other is the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which has long stated that glyphosate is not harmful to humans.

According to the official EPA report on the safety of glyphosate, "The agency re-evaluated the human carcinogenic potential of glyphosate; the agency concluded that glyphosate should be classified as 'not likely to be carcinogenic to humans.'"

Miguel A. Altieri, professor of biological control agro-ecology at University of California at Berkeley, expects that the statements from the EPA may be less rooted in truth than many would like to believe simply because such organizations often have an agenda to follow.

"Even if the unpublished study comes from data analyzed by the American Cancer Society or EPA or whatever government organization, it is well-known that these organizations are subjected to corporate pressure when reviewing scientific data concerning their products," Altieri told the Northern California Record.

Since the glyphosate debate has begun, there have been 184 individuals who have claimed that they developed cancer due to the use of RoundUp and are now pursuing legal action against Monsanto, who they claim failed to warn them of the risks involved or the danger or the ingredient.

"Right now, the state of California has put glyphosate on the Proposition 65 list, and that's currently on appeal before the appellate court in the Fresno area," Dan Herling with Mintz Levin in San Francisco told the Northern California Record. "While that appeal is pending, Monsanto petitioned to the California Supreme Court and said 'we don't think we should have an obligation to put a warning, which comes due in July.'"

Herling explained that the Supreme Court refused Monsanto's request, stating that it must utilize a warning on the product before Monsanto filed a complaint in the Eastern District of California with the federal court, arguing that it had been denied its First Amendment rights.

"I don't know if we're ever going to get to the issue of someone proving it one way or another," Herling said. "The issue is that there was one organization, the IARC, that said it did cause cancer versus the EPA and some of the others that said that it didn't. Is that enough? And we don't have an appellate decision on that yet."

While Herling is skeptical as to whether we will ever see Monsanto found to be guilty in a matter where the safety of a chemical is disputed by one entity, Jim V. Aidala, senior government affairs consultant with Bergeson & Campbell P.C., on the other hand, believes that if glyphosate is found to be carcinogenic it will change legislation. 

"There's a lot of other governments, including the U.S. government, that have evaluated it and said that they disagree with the conclusion that it is a significant carcinogen risk," Aidala told the Northern California Record. "If it is, that's a big problem. But the question is, is it?"

Aidala explained that what is remarkable is not just that IARC has found the chemical to be carcinogenic, but that it is the only group to have come to this conclusion, both in the U.S. and internationally to date. 

"If the U.S. and other governments agree, usually that's a pretty strong signal of scientific agreement, but the IARC conclusion then became the outlier," Aidala said. "As a regulatory expert, this is unusual, I can certainly say that. What do you do if there's a total of eight assessments and one body says something is a problem and the others all don't. What do you do? In the past, that's been the case where California has said 'even though there may be four other studies that say something different, the one that says it's a problem, we're gonna go with that.'"

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Organizations in this Story

U.S. Environmental Protection Age University of California, Berkeley World Health Organization