Debate Over Potential Cancer Risk of Widely Used Herbicide

The active ingredient in the world’s most popular herbicide may cause cancer in humans, according to a recent report from the International Agency for Research on Cancer. To address these findings, The Doctors invite Donna Farmer, a toxicologist with the Product Safety Center at Monsanto, the company that produces the herbicide (known commercially as Roundup), as well as Jeffery Smith, founder of the Institute for Responsible Technology and author of Seeds of Deception.

According to the IARC report, which looked at the available scientific data related to five different pesticides and herbicides, glyphosate caused DNA and chromosomal changes in human and animal cells, as well as increased the likelihood of developing cancerous tumors in mammals. As a result, the organization determined that the chemical is “probably carcinogenic to humans.”

Glyphosate, which was originally used as a descaling agent in pipes, is widely used in the United States, both by large-scale farmers and individual homeowners. It is used on more than 90 percent of corn and soybean crops in the U.S. The IARC report notes that the chemical has been detected in outdoor air during spraying, in water and in food. A safety evaluation and risk assessment conducted in 2000 by the National Institutes of Health concluded that, “under present and expected conditions of use, Roundup herbicide does not pose a health risk to humans.”

Donna, who has spent more than 20 years studying glyphosate for Monsanto, expresses surprise at the IARC findings. “When you look at what they came to in conclusion compared to regulatory agencies, third-party experts, and authoritative scientific bodies around the world for all the 40 years this product has been in use, this is a completely different departure,” she says. 

Donna adds that a recent comprehensive study conducted in Germany on behalf of the European Union concluded that there was no carcinogenic risk to humans. To account for these differences in analyses, Donna points to variations in the use of glyphosate during certain research studies and emphasizes that the chemical has been deemed safe for general use.

“When we look at glyphosate and how it’s used, regulatory authorities have all approved that all labeled usages of glyphosate are safe for humans,” she says. 

Jeffrey Smith, founder of the Institute for Responsible Technology, joins the conversation and notes that Monsanto has been convicted, both by a New York state court and a French court, of lying about the toxicity of glyphosate.

“Many scientists who have reviewed their work have declared it ‘tobacco science,’” Jeffrey says, “catching them red-handed specifically designing their studies to avoid finding problems.”

Jeffrey then cites a study that determined that cellular changes caused by glyphosate can lead to disruption of the natural biological function of certain chemicals and enzymes within the body. 

OB-GYN Dr. Jennifer Ashton notes that it would take almost 10 years and more than $250 million for the industry to develop a new, safe and effective alternative chemical. She asks what can be done for the average consumer, who may not want to spend outrageous sums for fresh produce.


Jeffrey says that organic agriculture can yield approximately the same amount of product as conventional agriculture.

“We don’t need these chemicals,” he says. “Prior to World War II, we didn’t use them.”

Donna argues that time and again, glyphosate has been deemed safe for humans and says she has no concerns about using it

“I am extremely, highly confident in this product as a mom, and I can back it up as a scientist,” she says.

ER physician Dr. Travis Stork emphasizes the importance of being an informed consumer and recommends anyone concerned to read the research and make their own decisions. 

 

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