By: Allison Taff, NAWG’s Spring 2018 Texas A&M Intern
Glyphosate is a safe herbicide commonly used by wheat growers that is very effective at controlling weeds prior to planting or after wheat is harvested. Unfortunately, in March 2015, glyphosate gained, undeservingly, a negative stigma. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) convened a meeting to evaluate the potential carcinogenic risks to humans from several pesticides, including glyphosate. After that meeting the IARC panel classified glyphosate in Category 2A, a category that also includes red meat.
This decision by IARC has received backlash from several credible scientific agencies around the world. In fact, since IARC classified glyphosate, regulatory authorities in the United States, Europe, Canada, Japan, New Zealand and Australia have publicly reaffirmed that glyphosate does not cause cancer. Additionally, in May 2016, the Joint FAO/WHO Meeting on Pesticide Residues (JMPR) concluded that “glyphosate is unlikely to pose a carcinogenic risk to humans from exposure through the diet.”
Click here to read a 2017 investigation by Reuters that reveals significant shortcomings and conflicts of interest with IARC’s process. The investigation helps put IARC’s erroneous classification of glyphosate into perspective.
Most recently, the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology held a hearing titled “In Defense of Scientific Integrity” on Tuesday, February 6, 2018 to examine IARC’s March 2015 decision to label glyphosate as a carcinogen.
During Chairman Lamar Smith’s (R-TX-21) opening statement, he emphasized the Committee’s responsibility to ensure that the underlying science behind assessments that influence policy and the public must have a basis of sound science. Smith argued that there are severe repercussions to IARC’s unsubstantiated claims and irresponsible handling of data, causing real harm to job creators, producers and the public’s view of the scientific process.
Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX-30), responded to Chairman Smith’s remarks by accusing the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) of working with industry friendly scientists. Johnson expressed her interest in continuing to innovate and manufacture chemicals that seek to improve human life and the initiate to do so but emphasized that human health must come first. Johnson used this claim as the premise to continue government funding of the IARC Working Group.
Besides manipulation of scientific data and lack of transparency, Chairman Smith also highlighted the Monograph Working Group’s complete failure to consider the most significant study on human exposure to Glyphosate, The Agricultural Health Study (AHS). This study was a result of collaboration of the National Cancer Institute (NCI), National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that provided information collected from 50,000 humans.
In addition, witness Dr. Robert Tarone, retired mathematical statistician at the U.S. National Cancer Institution and Biostatistics Director, provided evidence of the IARC working group excluding rodent studies that were conducted and undermined IARC’s conclusion that tumor rates were associated with exposure to Glyphosate.
Dr. Timothy Pastoor, CEO of Pastoor Science Communications, expressed the dire need of significant revision or cancellation of IARC’s outdated scientific process. Pastoor used the analogy of dosage of Aspirin when comparing exposure to Glyphosate. A few Aspirin will cure a headache, a whole bottle will kill you. The dosage makes the poison stated Pastoor. He accused IARC of telling half the story when it comes to exposure to Glyphosate.
Finally, Chairman Smith stated that the IARC Programme is alone in its determination of Glyphosate labeling. The EPA and European Food Safety Agency (EFSA), a European regulatory agency, have determined that Glyphosate is unlikely to cause cancer. According to Chairman Smith, when the committee contacted IARC’s director with concerns, he refused to comply as a witness for the committee.
Dr.Lowit testified on behalf of the EPA and their risk assessment determining Glyphosate as unlikely to cause cancer. Lowit stated that the EPA takes various factors into consideration, such as exposure.
Chairman Smith ended the opening statements by raising the question of why IARC should receive any government funding in the future, due to the use of “cherry picked” science created by those who have a financial stake in the resulting conclusion.
As agriculturist we must make it a priority to educate ourselves and the consumer when inaccurate science taints the public perception of important herbicides that are beneficial to production. Inaccurate labeling only results in higher prices for producers, consumers and mislead fear in the public.