The World Health Organization added its prestige to the debate over glyphosate this month, and in the process renewed fears that the widespread agricultural use of Monsanto’s GMO-tailored herbicide Roundup is a clear and present danger to public health.
“An international committee of cancer experts shocked the agribusiness world … when it announced that two widely used pesticides are ‘probably carcinogenic to humans,’” National Public Radio reported. “[WHO’s] well-respected International Agency for Research on Cancer published a brief explanation of its conclusions in The Lancet and plans to issue a book-length version later this year. The announcement set off a wave of feverish reaction, because one of these chemicals, glyphosate, is a pillar of large-scale farming.”
According to the panel’s summary, “The herbicide glyphosate and the insecticides malathion and diazinon were classified as probably carcinogenic to humans. The insecticides tetrachlorvinphos and parathion were classified as possibly carcinogenic to humans. …
“For the herbicide glyphosate, there was limited evidence of carcinogenicity in humans for non-Hodgkin lymphoma. The evidence in humans is from studies of exposures, mostly agricultural, in the USA, Canada, and Sweden published since 2001. In addition, there is convincing evidence that glyphosate also can cause cancer in laboratory animals. … Glyphosate also caused DNA and chromosomal damage in human cells, although it gave negative results in tests using bacteria. One study in community residents reported increases in blood markers of chromosomal damage (micronuclei) after glyphosate formulations were sprayed nearby.”
The report carefully defines the term “probably carcinogenic to humans”: “This category is used when there is limited evidence of carcinogenicity in humans and sufficient evidence of carcinogenicity in experimental animals. Limited evidence means that a positive association has been observed between exposure to the agent and cancer but that other explanations for the observations (called chance, bias, or confounding) could not be ruled out. This category is also used when there is limited evidence of carcinogenicity in humans and strong data on how the agent causes cancer.”
The scientists took note of the connection between rising glyphosate use and the introduction of GMO crops. “Glyphosate currently has the highest global production volume of all herbicides. … The agricultural use of glyphosate has increased sharply since the development of crops that have been genetically modified to make them resistant to glyphosate.”
Monsanto, of course, is the biotech corporation that makes both Roundup, whose active ingredient is glyphosate, and various genetically modified plants that can tolerate massive spraying of Roundup on fields.
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