Scientists take aim at UN research agency over glyphosate

The vicious fight over the safety of glyphosate has become even nastier.

In late October, 10 scientists who specialize in toxicology, pharmacology, genetics and related fields publicly slammed the World Health Organization and the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC).

The authors wrote in the journal of the International Society for Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology that IARC’s method for evaluating the safety of chemicals is outdated, backwards and causes unnecessary health scares.

“For example, inappropriately placing consuming red meat in the same category as exposure to mustard gas,” a press release said, announcing the publication of the journal article.

In March 2015, IARC proclaimed that glyphosate, the most popular herbicide in the world and the active ingredient in Roundup, was “probably carcinogenic to humans.”

The decision had an immediate and massive impact.

The European Union came close to banning glyphosate this spring. Several major nations, such as France and the Netherlands, refused to support an extension of glyphosate’s registration in Europe. After months of bickering, the European Commission granted an 18-month, temporary approval for the herbicide.

In North America, the IARC finding energized environmental groups and organic advocates, who lobbied the U.S. government to test food for glyphosate residues.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which had not previously tested for glyphosate, relented in February and promised to monitor residues in corn, soybeans, milk, eggs and other food.

Several regulatory bodies, including Health Canada and the European Food Safety Authority, released their studies on glyphosate after the IARC decision. They concluded the herbicide is not carcinogenic.

Experts have said the IARC conclusion is flawed because the agency uses an inappropriate method to evaluate chemical safety.

“They (IARC members) proudly proclaim that the only thing they do is what they call hazard assessments,” said James Bus, senior managing scientist with Exponent, a scientific consultancy near Washington, D.C.

“They introduce no concept of risk. Of course, dose and exposure are the critical elements of a risk assessment.”

Most regulatory agencies abandoned hazard based assessment three decades ago. They now use a risk-based assessment, which considers potential exposure to the chemical.

“I don’t believe there’s a regulatory agency around the world that views glyphosate as a carcinogen,” said Bus, a former president of the U.S. Society of Toxicology who worked for Dow Chemical for 23 years.

Keith Solomon, University of Guelph professor emeritus and globally recognized toxicologist, said agri-chemical companies must provide high-quality safety studies of pesticides to regulators. Agencies such as Health Canada evaluate those studies, but IARC does not.

“As a result, regulators might come to different conclusions about the substance,” Solomon said in an email.

“This often leads to contradictory opinions that are not easily understood by the public.”

However, in the case of glyphosate, the scientific discussion has moved well beyond contradictory opinions.

That’s because IARC’s decision on glyphosate was a direct attack on experts with Health Canada, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and other institutions, Bus said.

“Essentially, what IARC is saying publicly is that the regulatory agencies have it all wrong,” he said.

“It’s telling those individuals at the agencies … that they don’t know what they’re doing.”

That sort of attack was guaranteed to provoke a response, so it’s not surprising that many experts are describing IARC as a reckless institution.

“Health scares triggered by recently published IARC reports have resulted in governments and public agencies responding with costly supplemental reviews and, in some cases, restrictions or bans on products which had significant public benefits,” said Timothy Pastoor, a former industry scientist.

Scientists aren’t the only group taking shots at IARC.

This fall, U.S. politicians have threatened to cut off American government support for IARC.

In the letter, Jason Chaffetz, a congressman from Utah and chair of the House of Representatives’ committee on oversight and government reform, wanted to know why the National Health Institute continues to fund IARC.

“(Its) standards and determinations for classifying substances as carcinogenic, and therefore cancer-causing, appear inconsistent with other scientific research and have generated much controversy and alarm,” Chaffetz wrote, as reported by Reuters.

However, withdrawing financial support is risky because IARC scientists might become martyrs.

“You could guarantee that would be the headline of newspapers, when and if that should happen,” Bus said. “Politician X essentially silenced this hugely valuable institution that was protecting us all from the scourge of cancer.”

Canada’s meat industry asked the federal government to cut off funding to IARC this fall. In October 2015, IARC announced that red meat was probably carcinogenic to humans and processed meat was carcinogenic to humans.

Health Minister Jane Philpott said Canada would continue to fund IARC, iPolitics reported in early November.


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  • richard

    Should anyone really be surprised when the public views “objective science” as an oxymoron?….While the competing vested interests rearrange the deck chairs, the most used and abused chemical in the history of agriculture is rapidly becoming obsolete right before their blind eyes…. Its a strange world where biotech was introduced as a a means to reduce chemical abuse in agriculture……while it was engineering seeds dependent on abuse ?

  • Sheryl McCumsey

    It’s the same scientists who always support this pesticide just like the tobacco lobbyists. You can afford them when your profits run in the billions of dollars. People don’t even have any idea of what their exposure is when this has at least tripled in use in Canada in recent years. It is in our water and in our rain. Cancer causing is only one serious aspect of this herbicide. Look at Sri Lanka and El Salvador…..Argentina………only 20 million Canadians are diagnosed with gut issues today. Please tell us it isn’t what we are eating. Just because a lobbyist “doesn’t believe it” doesn’t mean it isn’t true. This isn’t a balanced story.

  • razorjack

    There scientists who said that cancer researchers were wrong when they said tobacco caused cancer. There were scientists who said that the lead in gasoline was safe with little risk. Scientists once told us that the Earth was the center of the Universe.

    All of these scientists were wrong.

    We’ll have to see what happens as this all plays out. Meanwhile we are all gambling our health on the outcome.

    • Harold

      Scientists played a part in the study of the Tobacco plant. Technology played a part in cigarette smoking. Human health study (science) discovered its contributing factor to cancer but not as a direct cause.
      Gasoline is a technology not science, and Human health study (science) rejected the technology.
      Religion told us that the Earth was the center of the universe, and all those rejecting, were put to death. It was not scientists.
      It was the profiteers of misinformation.who were responsible, and the same exist today. There is no gamble to what you can control with knowledge. or the outcome from knowledge. Education – perhaps
      I believe you were expressing the difference between educated and knowledge.

      • razorjack

        You are talking about real science and real scientists. The industry junk pseudo-science cult ideology we see from the GMO pesticide industry is not real science because it needs to be protected from real science and the truth at all costs, just like tobacco industry junk science or petroleum industry junk science.

        • Harold

          What people think cannot be helped if they don’t understand the meanings of their own words. This is the reason why nonsense words are created along with a description to help the people think. It is called MIND CONTROL 101. Helping people to think creates the favorable results of controversy. Controversy, when fuel is provided to both sides equally by the same hand, creates distraction. Distraction causes confusion. Confusion causes inaction. Inaction causes corporate freedom.
          Science means study. Scientist means one who studies. Through the act of study, they only bear witness to the code and data of that code. duplicating the code and receiving the same date supports the original. This study is open to all and cannot create controversy. If 1 plus 1 adds to 2 repeatedly and globally, then only in the remaining time proven, does the original data stand. Study is elevated only when the original is proven wrong, which is why study craves it. Technology simply, is the event of a tool.
          The words you use are words given, designed to create controversy, as they are non-descriptive. In other words, I don’t understand the difference between study and real study other than study now means not to study. Then why say it at all?
          I hope this shows a trap that we all fall into from time to time.
          The industry that you speak of is not forth coming with the codes which are kept confidential and stalling study. Nothing more.

  • Harold

    “Vicious”,”nastier”, “scares”, “backwards”, “bickering” ,”attack”, “threatened”, “alarm” “risky”, “martyrs”, all from reporting, and all of which are new terms related to science.
    If this is true, then all science is of raving lunatics. Knowing this not to be true, all that is necessary is that the Code and Raw data be publicly known for duplication, by as many who will, even to the backyard garage man of science. This is not happening, but instead it is coveted, therefore not science, and BS the reporting. Back to the top….

  • bufford54

    Herbicides, pesticides, fossil fuel based fertilizers, GM seeds, growth hormones, antibiotics, air polluting farm equipment, deforestation, water consumption and pollution. This is the price we all pay so that we can eat at an affordable price. If 7 billion people think it would somehow be safer and more efficient to feed themselves, then I invite them to go ahead and start growing their own food. Famers must use every tool necessary to remain competitive. Scientists and lobbyists have become alarmists. If you don’t like what is on your plate, don’t eat it.

    • ed

      We are presently growing annually ten times more grain calories than the entire world population can annually eat. commodity prices are a good indication of that if no one has the time to do the research. Growing excess in the manner that we do to drive the prices lower is not necessary or productive in the short, medium or long term unless you sell inputs or value add the slave labour below the cost of production commodities. Farmers will make far more money growing less. It is a shell game that has many facets, none of which has much to do with or anything to do with feeding people.

    • Kissing optional

      Typical buffoonery statement of false rhetoric. You know and I know it is simple greed and lack of conscience for self serving.
      If this selfserving ‘famer’ wasn’t receiving a welfare cheque in the name of ‘inputs rebate’ they would have no use for Agri-chem frankenfood production.

      • Harold

        I do know that the opposite of rhetoric is conciseness.
        “false rhetoric”. Is there a False in-conciseness, true rhetoric, or just rhetoric? I do know that the opposite of greed is Charity. I do know that the opposite of self-serving is self-forgetful. I do know that a fair contract is the exchange of value for equal value, and I do know, that unjustly, a farmer does not have that control. I do know, that there is only an organism and a modified organism, to which each have separate procedures, and where demand is present, a farmer has the obligation to perform. I don’t know, what “Agri-chem frankenfood is, but nonetheless, i do recognize rhetoric. I do know that I as a consumer have chosen one style of organism to which Bufford has no control. Bufford is an intelligent man suffering reality’s, and your “gun” is pointed in the wrong direction

        • Kissing optional

          You don’t know what ‘Agri-chem frankenfood’ is; but I will bet you do know what a welfare cheque in the name of inputs rebate is, at least by reference.
          I will also bet that free will choice by ‘Buford’s famers’ to produce Agri-biz frankenfood is directly related to receiving that welfare cheque that immediately is poured into the multinational Chem producers coffers so they can in turn, lobby/bribe policy makers to continue the welfare for billionaire cycle.
          Aiming my guns at the politicians receiving the bribes/lobby contributions and the naive, puppets such as Buford may very well be a waste of ammo, but it is my ammo.

    • Harold

      “This is the price we all pay so that we can eat at….” the given price. The term- affordable + price = means nothing. “Affordable price” is a Corporate fictional concept designed to have us accept that we are somehow lucky while carrying their weight. Affordable is also given to all things free. A rich man and a poor man cannot describe affordable in the same light, other than LUCKY
      What “7 Billion people”? If they acted upon your request, would you still be in business to even hold a “MUST DO”.

      Most do not eat what they do not like, or eat what is presumed to be unsafe. They are doing this already without the need of permission. This is obvious.

  • Frank

    “I don’t believe there’s a regulatory agency around the world that views
    glyphosate as a carcinogen,” said Bus, a former president of the U.S.
    Society of Toxicology who worked for Dow Chemical for 23 years.

    The credentials stated above are supposed to give trust and comfort on his
    statement. To me it seems to point to a potential conflict of interest
    and stacking the deck.

    Below is the (partial) mandate for the group mentioned. Not sure I would be comfortable knowing that I was putting my heath trust in a Dow Chemical employee.

    Society of Toxicology Members Shall:

    Conduct their work with objectivity and themselves with integrity.
    Being honest and truthful in reporting and communicating their research.

    Hold as inviolate that credible science is fundamental to all toxicological research and is the basis for communicating results.

    Recognize a duty to communicate information concerning health,
    safety, and toxicity in a timely and responsible manner, with due regard
    for the significance and credibility of the available data.

    Be a thoughtful advocate for human, animal, and environmental health.

    Abstain from professional judgments influenced by undisclosed
    conflict of interest, disclose any material conflicts of interest, and
    avoid situations that imply a conflict of interest.

    Observe the spirit, as well as the letter of laws, regulations, and
    ethical standards with regard to the conduct of human and animal

    Practice high standards of environmental and occupational health,
    and safety for the benefit of themselves, their co-workers, their
    families, their communities, and society as a whole.

    • John Fefchak

      “The relationship between a regulator and the regulated must never become one in which the regulator loses sight of the Principle that it regulates ONLY in the Public Interest and NOT in the interests of the regulated”
      [ Tainted Blood Inquiry;solemn warning by Justice Horace Krever}
      Unfortunately Canada and even some provinces have never understood what responsibilities they bear….and for the most part leave it to the regulated!

  • Kissing optional

    That’s quite the biased and misleading headline…
    As if ‘scientists’ are on only one side of the equation.
    After all, the truth is ‘ Scientists in the Pocket of Glyphosate Producers Take Aim At…” would be a little more concise of headline.

  • Bruce

    Wow! Another scathing attack on actual science and common sense by the Google educated activist crowd. Get out of your parent’s basement and live life instead of sitting in front of your Mac and spreading your ignorance with everyone online.

    • richard

      …….versus another scathing attack on reality from the Agribiz indoctrinated crowd who never allow the facts to get in the way of their willful ignorance and complicity…….

  • Harold

    It is indeed your ammo, but looking up the exhaust pipe, are you hitting anything that truly matters to the engine? Consumer choice will always dictate what is produced.
    It is the Corporate engine along with government that has changed a farmer into being a consumer of tax, and loans, rather than the consumer and aide to Canadian production.
    The Farmers will truly have the power you seek only after Canadians get off their lazy ass, and form an engine that dictates the corporate through government. Are you waiting for Buford to lead with his “welfare cheque” and his “free will choice”?
    Everybody want’s, want’s, and want’s, but they are unwilling to act, act, and to act. You point at government and the corporate and the farmer as if Canadians have no hand, and therefore blameless. How convenient and how today!

  • Denise

    Unfortunately, the research on glyphosate and its adjuvants (Roundup) should have been done 30 years ago by independent scientists.
    Many painful gut problems, organ diseases, cancers, and deaths could have been prevented had we known the truth.
    Most people never make the connection that most of our food staples,contaminated with excessive pesticide residues, could be the cause of their health problems.


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