A recent World Health Organization report warns that one of the most widely used weed-killers in the world contains substances that might lead to cancer. Glyphosate, a chemical synthetized by Monsanto, was labeled as a potential carcinogen after research was conducted on humans and lab animals.
The France-based International Agency for Research on Cancer, a WHO research body, investigated the effects of chemical exposure to five popular insect and weed killers. It came to the conclusion that glyphosate – the most widely used weed-killer in the United States – is a potential carcinogen.
The IARC’s verdict does not definitively establish that exposure to glyphosate leads to cancer. The agency uses four level of risk in its research ranging from “known carcinogen” to “probably not carcinogenic”. The weed-killer falls into the second category from the top, which means it can possibly cause cancer.
IARC also advised that the cancer risk only comes into play in case of industrial use of the chemical. Small-scale use, like spraying glyphosate-based products in the garden from time to time, is not thought to be a risk.
The agency’s conclusions were quickly contested by weed-killer manufacturers. More than 750 herbicide products have glyphosate as an ingredient, and Monsanto and other companies rushed to claim that “all labeled uses of glyphosate are safe for human health.”
The US Environmental Protection Agency estimated in 2012 that the use of the ingredient met its safety standards and it could “continue to be used without unreasonable risks to people or the environment.” The EPA usually relies on its own research, and only said that it would consider the WHO body’s conclusion.
The IARC report, released online on Thursday, does indeed employ a language that becomes confusing at times. While its researchers gathered “convincing evidence” that glyphosate can cause cancer in laboratory animals, they only offered “limited evidence” the chemical can lead to non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in humans, to quote some of the wording used in the report.
Furthermore, Monsanto spokesman Phil Miller argued that the WHO agency made use in its research of existing data that his company already went over. He questioned the IARC for reaching “a conclusion that is such a dramatic departure from the conclusion reached by all regulatory agencies around the globe.” Miller says the company he represents has asked the WHO to take another look at the available data.
Food industry experts are confident that the recent report, although it probably won’t have any effect on herbicide manufacturers’ policy, will at least lead to further research on the matter, benefiting consumers. “We need more science on this genetically engineered landscape we now eat from,” analyst Robyn O’Brien believes.
Image Source: Forbes
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