WHO says Monsanto weed-killer is ‘probably carcinogenic’; company rejects claim

Monsanto says herbicide glyphosate is ‘safe’ for human health

By DTE Staff
Published: Friday 27 March 2015

A recent WHO report has claimed that the chief ingredient used in Monsanto’s herbicide, Roundup, may be carcinogenic. It is widely used by farmers to kill weeds

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.”

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