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Common Herbicide Labeled “Probable Carcinogen” by WHO

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In late March, the International Agency for Research on Cancer, the France-based cancer research arm of the World Health Organization (WHO), labeled the weed-killer RoundUp a “probable carcinogen” due to an ingredient called glyophosate. Round Up, which is one of the world’s most popular and widely-used pesticides, is manufactured by Monsanto, a multinational agrochemical and agricultural biotechnology corporation headquartered in Missouri. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is currently undergoing its own study as to the cancer risk associated with Round Up, and has stated that it would consider the WHO evaluation.

What is Glyophosate?

RoundUp contains a herbicide called glyophosate, which is the carcinogenic agent in RoundUp according to the WHO. In the mid-1990s, Monsanto genetically engineered and introduced to the market crops which could withstand being sprayed with glyophosate—known as “RoundUp Ready crops.” Since that time, farmers have been using glyophosate in increasing quantities. Today it is the most widely-used herbicide in the world. Glyophosate is now used in other products besides RoundUp, and according to the WHO it is used in 750 products.  As time has gone on, weeds have developed increased resistance to glyophosate, which has led to controversy within the agricultural community.

What is the Issue

The WHO’s report, however, is the first controversy involving the possible link between the product and cancer in humans who are exposed to it since an EPA committee determined thirty years ago, in 1985, that RoundUp might cause cancer. At that time, the EPA classified glyophosate as a Class C Carcinogen, which has suggestive evidence of carcinogenic potential. The EPA later reversed itself in 1991 after re-evaluating a study on mice. Now the issue has reemerged in the agricultural community and the broader public, spurring a debate as to whether the popular product is harmful for those who use it.

Officials from the International Agency for Research on Cancer have stated that their conclusion was based on studies of people, laboratory animals, and cells. According to Dr. Aaron Blair, a retired epidemiologist from the National Cancer Institute, “[a]ll three lines of evidence sort of said the same thing, which is we ought to be concerned about this.” Agreement as to the classification of RoundUp as a “probable carcinogen” was unanimous among the reviewers. The WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer published their findings in a brief paper in The Lancet Oncology, and will subsequently publish a more detailed article.

Mosanto Responds

Monsanto now seeks retraction of the WHO report. Monsanto vice president of global regulatory affairs Philip Miller stated that the company “question[s] the quality of the assessment” and that “[t]he WHO has something to explain.” Monsanto has also stated that it does not expect the WHO report to affect sales of RoundUp.

The new classification by the WHO is aimed at industrial agricultural use of the product and does not consider use by home gardeners to be a risk. Ashcraft & Gerel has a long history of advocating for those who have suffered serious health complications due to exposure to toxins, such as asbestos and lead paint. If you or a loved one has been injured due to exposure to dangerous chemicals or products, please contact us online or call at 800-829-7037 to protect your legal rights.