March 23, 2015

March Madness from the UN on glyphosates

glyphosate-crops_custom-428a3594d783d20539d1da64cade4e31b4b920bb-s1100-c15 While the sports world is wrapped up in the madness of March basketball playoffs, another madness is starting in the UN and it is not positive to farmers.

Late last Friday afternoon, a designation related to Round-Up used on crops was released. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), a component of the UN’s World Health Organization that evaluates the likelihood that various chemicals cause cancer, indicated that the agency has now listed glyphosate as a 2A potential carcinogen. You can read the full report here.

For the first time since 1991, the focus of this IARC review was on pesticides. (One important piece of what IARC does is determine which substances in our environment have the potential for causing cancer. IARC does not conduct any original research; it only reviews studies and research already published to determine carcinogen status. ) At this meeting, five pesticides were evaluated and three of them were classified as “probably carcinogenic.”

Probably is not a very scientifically-sound word.

But neither the U.S. EPA nor the European Chemical Agency (ECHA) had previously classified the three active ingredients as being carcinogenic.  Why the discrepancy? No new research had been done, so why did they pull these out?

Henry Miller said in his article in Forbes, “The disparity appears to arise from the fact that IARC bases its conclusion on potential hazard rather than the actual risk of harm. What does that mean to you and me? Well, we regularly participate in hazardous activities that have the potential to harm us–we use knives, drive cars, fly on airplanes and cross busy streets. However, the risk–the probability that we will actually be harmed– associated with each of these activities is low.”

The same applies to the IARC’s analysis of glyphosate. The data (and a selected set of data, at that) were reviewed to determine whether glyphosate is capable of causing cancer. As with common chemicals like sugar, salt and water, and foods like nutmeg and licorice, glyphosate at very high doses is capable of causing harm to humans.

Key words: very high doses.
If you ingest enough of any substance, including water, it has the potential to kill you. When it comes to glyphosate this is even more relevant, because IARC’s conclusions only apply to exposure high enough to meet industrial uses.

As one of the scientists behind IARC’s classification stated:
“I don’t think home use is the issue,” said Kate Guyton of IARC. “It’s agricultural use that will have the biggest impact. For the moment, it’s just something for people to be conscious of.”
In other words, the people that need to be wary of exposure are the applicators, the people actually applying the herbicide. But applicators have their own set of standards and regulations that they have to meet to become certified to handle these products, so they are well aware of how to safely handle Round-Up.

Even the European Crop Protection Association ( ECPA)  refute this issue in their statement:
The IARC conclusions published in Lancet Oncology contradict the world’s most robust and stringent regulatory systems – namely the European Union and the United States – in which crop protection products have undergone extensive reviews based on multi-year testing and in which active ingredients such as glyphosate and malathion been found not to present a carcinogenic risk to humans.
So really, there has been a lot of fuss in the news (and scare to our consumers) about nothing that should worry them.  In fact, the EPA has concluded:
The U.S. EPA classified glyphosate as Group E, evidence of non-carcinogenicity in humans. The U.S. EPA does not consider glyphosate to be a human carcinogen based on studies of laboratory animals that did not produce compelling evidence of carcinogenicity.
Make sure to read about this issue from a farmer herself: Glyphosate as a carcinogen, explained by The Farmer’s Daughter.

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