Glyphosate’s Cancer Finding Defended by International Body Attacked by Congressmen and Monsanto, as Permit Is Extended in EU
(Beyond Pesticides, November 29, 2017) The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), an arm of the World Health Organization, responded to the latest industry-fueled attacks on its reputation in the wake of its 2015 determination that glyphosate, the most commonly used herbicide in the world, is a probable carcinogen based on sufficient evidence of carcinogenicity found in laboratory studies. Despite strong evidence against continued use of the chemical, the European Union voted this week to extend its allowance in member countries another 5 years. However, the extension is not the 15 years that Monsanto and other chemical companies sought, and France remains committed to banning the product in its home country and throughout the EU as soon as possible.
On November 1, Chairmen Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) and Rep. Andy Biggs (R-AZ) of the U.S. House Science, Space, and Technology Committee, and Environment Subcommittee, respectively, sent a letter to IARC questioning the integrity of its determination that glyphosate has carcinogenic properties. This is the latest in a long string of assaults on the agency encouraged by chemical companies, like Monsanto, which have an economic interest in keeping its toxic products on the market and away from restrictions or regulations that would limit its use. The letter represents the sort of actions Monsanto is undertaking in the U.S. with its allies in Congress, necessitating that local communities and advocates take action to protect health and the environment.
In their letter, Reps. Smith and Biggs asserted that IARC altered initial drafts of its glyphosate determination by removing research that questioned links between the chemical and cancer. However, in IARC’s response letter, the agency indicates that the draft in question highlighted a review article that is currently being investigated by journalists as being “ghostwritten” by Monsanto employees. The revelation of the company’s ghostwriting comes from internal memos released by Monsanto during the course of ongoing litigation by private individuals who claim that glyphosate use resulted in their cancer diagnosis. Nonetheless, the IARC letter notes, “[T]he Working Group considered that information in the review article and its supplement was insufficient for independent evaluation of the individual studies and the conclusions reached by the Monsanto scientist and another author. As a result, the draft was revised, and the text in the published Monograph is the consensus opinion of the Working Group.” The letter further points Reps. Smith and Biggs to pages 34-35 and 40-41 of the glyphosate monograph, which reviews the study in question.
In the same vein, the Congressmen claim that Aaron Blair, PhD, withheld critical information from the review committee, including results from the U.S.’ ongoing Agricultural Health Study. However, in its response, IARC simply notes that it is required to follow its preamble and not include any unpublished or “secret” data in its review. The data in question from the Agricultural Health Study was unpublished.
The Congressmen also singled out Christopher Portier, PhD, for conflict of interest by assisting in private litigation against Monsanto while working with the IARC committee review glyphosate. However, IARC notes in its letter that Dr. Portier was an invited specialist, but had no role in drafting text or participating in the evaluation process. He did recommend glyphosate for review during the 2015-2019 period, however that was prior to his involvement in litigation against Monsanto.
IARC further emphasized that its glyphosate review was conducted transparently by noting that all draft documents are available to all scientists that attend the meetings, including observers from industry. Monsanto’s observer, Tim Soran, PhD, DSc, is quoted as saying, “The meeting was held in accordance with IARC procedures. Dr Kurt Straif, the director of the Monographs, has an intimate knowledge of the rules in force and insisted that they be respected.”
Congressmen Lamar and Biggs indicate in their letter that they may call hearings to further question IARC representatives. Interrogating IARC officials is ultimately in line with the interests of chemical companies like Monsanto, which have continuously sought out new angles to flex its power and discredit IARC and its glyphosate determination. Monsanto’s aim is likely an attempt to intimidate IARC by using powerful members of Congress to threaten its funding, of which the U.S. contributes a substantial sum to the IARC review process. Actions like these are a message to IARC that it should not take on pesticides or other substances that threaten the economic interest of multinational chemical companies.
Fight back against Monsanto’s attempt to undermine the scientific and democratic process by getting involved at the local level. Work to pass policies that restrict not only glyphosate, but the entire range of toxic synthetic pesticides registered by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Beyond Pesticides has resources to help you get started, including an organizing guide, model policy, and list of less toxic, organic compatible products. For more information on IARC’s glyphosate cancer classification and the IARC review process, see Beyond Pesticides’ article in our newsletter Pesticides and You.
Source: IARC letter to Congress
All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.