My main question visiting Monsanto* was, “What will your company do differently in the future?” It was in regard to the safety testing of glyphosate, the key ingredient in Roundup, the most widely used weed controller in the world. The International Agency for Research on Cancers (IARC), an agency of the World Health Organization, recently concluded that the popular herbicide probably causes cancer in humans.
“Nothing,” was the kind, but definitive answer given to me, an Illinois Farm Families City Mom, by Donna Farmer, Product Protection & Nutrition Lead at Monsanto.
Farmer, who has worked as a toxicologist at Monsanto for almost 20 years, listed the numerous, extensive worldwide human health, crop residue and environmental studies that have been conducted since the product was registered in 1974. No new data was included in IARC’s review.
“The IARC panel, in one week, came to a conclusion of genotoxic and carcinogenic potential,” said Farmer. “While regulatory agencies, other scientific bodies and third party scientists for almost 40 years have concluded and continue to conclude that glyphosate is not genotoxic or carcinogenic.”
Farmer stated that some of the data the IARC scientists reviewed was real, but not relevant. “There were studies where researchers using syringes injected glyphosate and/or glyphosate-based formulations into the abdominal cavities of mice and detected an adverse effect on DNA,” said Farmer. “This is an irrelevant route of exposure for the use of products like Roundup branded herbicides. No one is going to inject themselves or others in the abdomen with syringes full of glyphosate.”
Similarly, the intended use of Roundup is not to drink it by the glass. However, the video of Patrick Moore, an environmentalist and proponent of genetically modified foods, refusing to drink a glass of Roundup spread quickly on social media.
The father of toxicology said, “the dose makes the poison.” All substances, from salt and caffeine to aspirin, can be poisonous. The right dose differentiates a remedy from a poison. A couple of aspirin might help with a headache, but too much can cause major damage.
IARC states their long-term objective is to critically review and evaluate published scientific evidence on each carcinogenic hazard to which humans are exposed. International experts, selected on the basis of their expertise and absence of conflicts of interest, perform the evaluations. Another hazard IARC has deemed probably carcinogenic to humans is nightshift work, because it disrupts cardiac rhythms.
IARC’s role is to determine the possibility of a hazard causing cancer. The risk and the actual chances of that outcome in the real world are questions left up to other authorities. The Environmental Protection Agency is responsible for determining tolerances of pesticide products on food crops. TheFDA enforces these tolerances on all foods except meat, poultry, and certain egg products, which are monitored by the USDA.
Glyphosate is widely used in conventional farming and on home lawns and gardens. Corn, soy, canola, cotton and other crops have Roundup Ready versions, which are genetically modified to resist the Roundup herbicide. As a result of Roundup Ready crops, the use of glyphosate has greatly increased in the United States. Since Roundup Ready soybeans became commercially available in 1996, herbicide use increased from 62 million pounds to 128 million pounds in 2012. Glyphosate accounted for 83% of herbicide use in 2012.
Farmers who apply glyphosate are at the greatest risk for exposure. However, our children come in contact with glyphosate when they play on chemically treated grass. And we consume small amounts of glyphosate when we eat genetically modified foods.
What does Monsanto plan to do differently based on this assessment? Nothing. They believe they have done the necessary research to prove Roundup’s safety.
What will you do differently? Will you fight for GMOs to be labeled? Will you shoo your children off perfectly manicured lawns?