Monsanto says herbicide glyphosate is ‘safe’ for human health
US agri-biotech giant Monsanto has demanded the retraction of a WHO report that says the company’s popular weed-killed, Roundup, is “probably carcinogenic”. The company said the recently released report is “biased”.
WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), an inter-governmental agency, has assessed the carcinogenicity of five organophosphate pesticides in its report. The agency says that the herbicide, glyphosate, was probably carcinogenic to humans.
What is glyphosate?
Glyphosate, the chief ingredient of Roundup, is widely used in agriculture to control weeds. It is also used in forestry, urban and home applications. The IARC report says that glyphosate use has increased sharply since the development of genetically modified crops. It has been detected in the air during spraying, in water and in food, according to the report.
Reacting to IARC’s claim, Monsanto vice president of global regulatory affairs, Philip Miller, said, “We question the quality of the assessment. The WHO has something to explain.”
Monsanto’s website says that all labelled uses of glyphosate are “safe” for human health and “supported by one of the most extensive worldwide human health databases ever compiled on an agricultural product”.
Monsanto officials have expressed the desire to meet WHO and IARC members. Miller added that the company provided scientific data to the IARC showing the safety of glyphosate, but that the agency chose to ignore it, according to news reports.
He said the report should not affect the safety review of glyphosate currently under way by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). On its part, the EPA, which has the power to limit or ban the use of glyphosate, has promised to look into the report.
Farmers have been using glyphosate in increasing quantities since Monsanto introduced crops genetically engineered to withstand being sprayed with the herbicide in the mid-1990s.
“Roundup Ready” corn, soybeans and other crops are popular because of the ease with which farmers have been able to kill weeds. But weeds have developed resistance to glyphosate, leading farmers to use more and more herbicides.
Though the United States and other international regulatory bodies have backed the safety of glyphosate when used as directed, the IARC report cited studies that raised concerns about glyphosate and its adverse impacts on health.
“There are a number of independent, published manuscripts that clearly indicate that glyphosate ... can promote cancer and tumour growth,” Dave Schubert, the head of the cellular neurobiology laboratory at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, California, was quoted by Reuters as saying. “It should be banned.”
We are a voice to you; you have been a support to us. Together we build journalism that is independent, credible and fearless. You can further help us by making a donation. This will mean a lot for our ability to bring you news, perspectives and analysis from the ground so that we can make change together.
Comments are moderated and will be published only after the site moderator’s approval. Please use a genuine email ID and provide your name. Selected comments may also be used in the ‘Letters’ section of the Down To Earth print edition.