Glyphosate use may be OK on farms, gardens, but Bayer may pay for it
Its critics say the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has “doubled down” on the active ingredient in Roundup, the popular weed killer.
But that’s probably an overstatement.
On April 30 the EPA changed Roundup’s label requirements with suggested application measures to reduce glyphosate drift and disclosure about herbicide resistance. New instructions will advise against spraying Roundup when winds exceed 15 mph or during temperature inversions.
The critics don’t like EPA once again affirming that glyphosate is a safe herbicide when properly applied to fields and lawns.
Roundup, with glyphosate as its active ingredient, was the subject of a court case involving Edwin Hardeman’s cancer, non-Hodgkin lymphoma. A San Franciso jury awarded Hardeman $80 million. At least 11,000 additional cases are coming behind Hardeman’s. Roundup is among the brands acquired by Bayer when the German company purchased St. Louis-based Monsanto.
Before Hardeman won the $80 million jury award, another California jury awarded $289 million to Dewayne Johnson, a former school groundskeeper for his non-Hodgkin lymphoma. A judge cut that award to $78 million.
Roundup ‘s new liability risk dates back to 2015 when the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) found glyphosate is “probably carcinogenic to humans.” The IARC finding for the World Health Organization (WHO) contrasts with both U.S. and past European studies that found glyphosate safe to use when properly applied.
In its new finding, EPA does acknowledge a “potential risk” to mammals and birds in areas and water from chemical drift.
The National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) said EPA’S new review of the world’s most widely used herbicide puts the agency in a deceitful position.”
“EPA’s pesticide office is out on a limb here — with Monsanto and Bayer and virtually nobody else,” said Jennifer Sass, a senior scientist with NRDC’s Healthy People and Thriving Communities Program.
“Health agencies and credible non-industry experts who’ve reviewed this question have all found a link between glyphosate and cancer. EPA should take the advice of its own science advisors who have rejected the agency’s no-cancer-risk classification.”
Bill Freese, a science policy analyst at the Center for Food Safety, said government officials are more interested in helping the company than they are in helping the public.
“EPA and Monsanto continue to defy the science and deny glyphosate’s carcinogenic threat,” Freese said. “Trump’s EPA is apparently twisting the science in a vain attempt to help Monsanto defend itself against the many pending glyphosate-cancer lawsuits.”
April also saw the publication by Washington State University researchers of a study linking glyphosate to multi-generational health damage in rats. The research was headed by WSU Biological Sciences Professor Michael Skinner and published in Scientific Reports
The WSU scientists found the second and third generations of offspring of rats exposed to glyphosate experienced prostate, kidney, and ovarian diaereses; obesity; and birth abnormalities. The researchers said “generational toxicology” from exposure to glyphosate is like that seen to fungicides, pesticides, jet fuel, the plastic compound bisphenol A., the insect repellant DEET, and herbicide atrazine. Epigenetic changes are known to turn genes on and off because of environmental influences.
The WSU research follows last year’s study by the University of Washington showing the risk of non-Hodgkin lymphoma increase by as much as 41 percent with exposure to glyphosate. Findings like these will likely increase pressure to measure glyphosate residues in commonly consumed foods.
U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, the senior Democrat on the Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee with jurisdiction over funding and oversight of the USDA, wants to include tests for glyphosate in the department’s annual pesticide residue monitoring programs.
She wrote to Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue about it earlier this year.
“As you know, glyphosate is the active ingredient in Roundup, a popular agrochemical marketed by Bayer, formerly Monsanto,” DeLauro wrote. “Registered as both an herbicide and pesticide, it is widely used throughout agriculture production, from fruit and vegetable production to row crops like corn, soybeans, and wheat.
“As a result, considerable public interest has arisen as to what levels of glyphosate residues, if any, are present in commonly consumed foods. Recent testing by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) discovered detectable levels of the herbicide in more than a dozen popular children’s breakfast foods, including granola, cereals, and instant oats. Similarly, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which began including tests for glyphosate in its annual ‘Pesticide Residue Monitoring Program’ in 2016, found detectable glyphosate levels in 63.1 percent of corn samples and 67.0 percent of soybean samples. Just as concerning, the same analysis found that glyphosate was the fourth most prevalent pesticide residue found on human foods.”
DeLauro said USDA has abandoned previous plans to include glyphosate residue in its annual program.
“In fact, to our knowledge, the only time the USDA has comprehensively studied glyphosate residue occurred in 2011 at the request of the EPA,” she wrote. “With respect to that onetime study, the Government Accountability Office discovered that the ‘USDA detected glyphosate residues in about 90 percent of the 300 soybean samples and the glyphosate metabolite in over 95 percent of the samples.’ ”
The representative from Connecticut told the USDA secretary that “the omission of glyphosate residue testing and monitoring from the USDA’s Pesticide Data Program is irresponsible and undermines our ability to ensure the safest possible food supply for all American consumers.”
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