In March 2015, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), a research arm of the World Health Organization (WHO), reclassified glyphosate as a "probable carcinogen" (Class 2A).1,2
The decision was based on "limited evidence" showing the weed killer can cause non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and lung cancer in humans, along with "convincing evidence" linking it to cancer in animals.
The IARC is considered the global gold standard for carcinogenicity studies, so its determination was of considerable importance. It's also one of the five research agencies from which the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) — the California agency of environmental hazards — gets its reports to declare carcinogens under Prop 65.
Monsanto has vigorously pursued a retraction of the IARC's damning report,3 to prevent California from pursuing a cancer warning on Roundup and other, newer weed killers in the pipeline, designed for use on the company's latest genetically engineered (GE) crops.
Monsanto Forced to Put Cancer Warning on Roundup
Their efforts have so far failed, and Fresno County Superior Court Judge Kristi Kapetan recently struck another nail in the company's coffin, striking down Monsanto's attempt to overturn California's 2015 ruling to require Prop 65 warnings on glyphosate.4,5,6
While Kapetan has yet to issue a formal decision on the matter, Monsanto says it will challenge the ruling, if upheld. As reported by LA Progressive:7
"California would be the first state to order this level of labeling if this decision by the California Carcinogen Identification Committee is sustained by further court action.
Monsanto previously sued the nation's foremost agricultural producing state by filing court motions to the effect that California's carcinogen committee … had illegally based their decision for mandatorily requiring the warnings on 'erroneous' findings by an international health organization …
Trenton Norris, Monsanto's lawyer, argued in court Friday that the labels would result in irreparable and immediate negative fiscal effect for Monsanto, because millions of consumers [would] stop buying Roundup because of the labels."
Roundup isn't the only weed killer that would have to bear the Prop 65 warning label. Glyphosate is also found in Ortho Groundclear, KleenUp, Aquamaster, Sharpshooter, StartUp,Touchdown, Total Traxion, Vector and Vantage Plus Max II and others.
Cancer Warning Likely Boon to Cancer Patients Suing Monsanto
A Prop 65 cancer warning on Roundup would likely benefit those suing Monsanto claiming the weed killer caused or contributed to their or a loved one's cancer. There are currently at least three dozen such cases pending. As noted by LA Progressive:8
"Jack McCall was an avocado and apple farmer with only 20 acres and he carried around a backpack with Roundup for 30 years, and then died of cancer in 2015.
His widow, Terri, strongly believes that any kind of warning about carcinogenicity would have prevented his entirely avoidable death. 'I just don't think my husband would have taken that risk if he had known,' she stated."
Following the court hearing, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., an environmental lawyer, gave a press conference, saying:9
"This [Prop 65] listing is not going to put [Monsanto] out of business. It's just going to warn people before they use their product that this product might cause cancer, and you better limit your use to protect yourself and to protect your families.
It's called a precautionary principle. Who wouldn't want to know that? Why does this company not want these farm workers to know that this chemical may endanger them and may endanger their families?
Why did [Monsanto] hire these great lawyers to come here to shut California up and to stop California from protecting these people?"
Advisory Panel Questions EPA's Decision on Glyphosate
Part of Monsanto's defense of glyphosate hinges on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) decision that the chemical is "not likely to be carcinogenic" to humans, issued on September 12, 2016.10
However, following strong criticism, the agency convened a scientific advisory panel to re-analyze the scientific evidence and evaluate the strength of the EPA's decision.
Subsequently, a four-day-long panel meeting was held in December 2016. As reported by Carey Gillam, a journalist and research director for the non-profit consumer rights group, U.S. Right to Know (USRTK):11
"[W]hile the EPA may have hoped for resounding support from the scientific advisory panel (SAP) it assembled, from the outset of the meetings … concerns were raised by some of the experts about the quality of the EPA's analysis.
Some scientists were concerned that the EPA was violating its own guidelines in discounting data from various studies that show positive associations between glyphosate and cancer.
Several of the SAP members questioned why the EPA excluded some data that showed statistical significance, and wrote off some of the positive findings to mere chance …
The EPA looked at both published studies as well as unpublished studies conducted by industry players like Monsanto … The IARC review focused on published, peer-reviewed research."
Industry Group Meddled With Scientific Panel Picks
In addition to the scientific review, pointed questions were also raised about the chemical industry's influence over regulators. As a general rule, peer-reviewed, published research, especially by independent scientists, tend to carry more merit than unpublished industry research.
In this case, CropLife America, which represents Monsanto and other agribusinesses, actually demanded the EPA remove nationally recognized epidemiologist Peter Infante, Ph.D., from the scientific advisory panel, claiming he was incapable of impartiality because he would give more weight to independent research than industry studies.
The EPA complied, booting Infante off the panel. He still made an appearance at the meeting though, and in his testimony, Infante urged the advisory panel not to ignore "impressive evidence" linking glyphosate to non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
Beware of the Latest Front Group Promoting Chemical Industry's Agenda
CropLife America certainly isn't the only industry group fighting for Monsanto's right to poison the unaware.
In January, a group called Campaign for Accuracy in Public Health Research12(CAPHR) was formed, but contrary to its stated mission, this industry front group is pushing an agenda that has absolutely nothing to do with promoting "credible, unbiased and transparent science as the basis of public policy decisions."
The group was formed by the American Chemistry Council (ACC), whose members include Monsanto, and as noted by Gillam with USRTK, CAPHR's "express purpose is to discredit the IARC,"13 which notably consists of independent scientists from around the world.
More to the point, CAPHR clearly states it "will seek reform" of the IARC Monographs Program, which evaluates and determines the carcinogenicity of chemicals.
"Monsanto and friends have been harassing IARC … through a series of demands, threats and legal maneuvers, including lobbying the U.S. House of Representatives to cut funding for IARC," Gillam writes. "The new campaign takes the assault further.
On the group's new twitter account … CAPHR has posted a string of insults against IARC scientists, accusing the experts from prestigious institutions around the world of 'making sensational claims,' drawing conclusions 'that can't be trusted' and using 'questionable methodologies.'
If CAPHR is to be believed, the public, lawmakers and regulators should not trust the epidemiology experts, toxicologists and other scientists who made up the IARC working group, which was led by an award-winning cancer expert from the National Cancer Institute [NCI].
No, they should look for unbiased information about the safety of the industry's billion-dollar baby from the industry itself. The chemical industry campaigners insist that the people making money off chemical sales are more trustworthy than scientists who have made a career studying causes of cancer. The rationale for the campaign is clear: It's not about protecting public health, it's about protecting corporate profits."
Why Monsanto Fights to Avoid Skull and Crossbones Label
Needless to say, Monsanto and other chemical technology companies stand to lose a whole lot more than commercial weed killer sales should Kapetan uphold her ruling to allow California to proceed with a cancer warning on glyphosate products, and that's why the corporate spin machine is in overdrive. A range of new genetically engineered (GE) plants have been made to withstand a combination of glyphosate and other chemicals such as 2,4-D or dicamba.
If glyphosate products must carry a cancer warning, all that food becomes suspect as well, since the chemical cannot be washed off. Hypothetically, California could even require food made with GE ingredients to carry a Prop 65 warning.
It's unlikely it would go that far, but even if it didn't, people might put two-and-two together in their own minds. The problem is they would have to establish a safe level for an endocrine disruptor, which cannot be done, since there is no safe level. So, if and how this situation ends up being addressed will be interesting to see.
It might also scare off farmers, making them reconsider the benefits of growing GE crops if they have to use a carcinogenic weed killer. Worse, it would provide added ammunition for nations already considering more stringent measures against glyphosate-based products. European Commission leaders met in March 2016, to vote on whether to renew a 15-year license for glyphosate, which was set to expire in June that year.
The decision was tabled amid mounting opposition, as more than 180,000 Europeans signed a petition calling for glyphosate to be banned outright. Ultimately, more than 2 million signatures were collected against relicensing the chemical. In June, however, the European Commission granted an 18-month extension to glyphosate while they continue the review. A ruling is expected by the end of 2017.
In the meantime, new restrictions were announced, including a ban on a co-formulant (tallowamine), increased scrutiny of pre-harvest uses of glyphosate and efforts to minimize its use in public parks and playgrounds. Unlike in the U.S., where glyphosate use is largely unrestricted, "seven EU states have extensive glyphosate prohibitions in place, two have restrictions and four countries have impending or potential bans," The Guardian reported.14
Monsanto Front Group Takes Flight on Twitter With Alternative Facts
CAPHR wasted no time when it came to launching its "alternative facts" campaign. The day it was launched, the organization took to Twitter with a #glyphosateisvital campaign, proclaiming the weed killer is essential to "maintain the production of safe, affordable food." Anyone even remotely familiar with regenerative farming knows that simply isn't true. Ample amounts of food can be grown without glyphosate or any other chemicals for that matter, and that's no idle talk or theory.
Regenerative farmers around the world have repeatedly proven they can meet and in many cases outperform conventional methods. Still, that doesn't sway proponents of chemical agriculture. On the contrary, the chemical ag industry seems hell-bent on destroying the field of science altogether by insisting the only science worth paying attention to is that which companies produce for their own products.
"Embedded in the industry's truth-twisting tactics is the characterization of anyone who gives credence to scientific research showing problems with glyphosate, or the GMOs that go with it, as 'anti-science.' It's an effort to reverse reality and detract from the fact that it is industry backers, not industry critics, who deplore the findings of independent, peer-reviewed scientific research," Gillam writes.15
'The pesticide industry recognizes it's on the defensive,' said environmental lawyer Charlie Tebbutt. 'It's doing everything it can to transform reality.' As the post-truth Trump team looks set to dismantle environmental regulations and the protections they bring to the public, it's likely the chemical industry will only continue to elevate alternative facts. We all will need to work harder than ever to see through the spin."