Monsanto-Funded Study Says Monsanto’s Weed Killer Doesn’t Cause Cancer

There’s yet another review of the health risks glyphosate presents to humans.
Spraying a wheat field. (Photo: Andia/Getty Images)
Sep 29, 2016· 2 MIN READ
Jason Best is a regular contributor to TakePart who has worked for Gourmet and the Natural Resources Defense Council.

If you’ve been worried ever since the world’s leading body of cancer experts designated the most heavily used herbicide in the history of modern agriculture a probable human carcinogen, take heart: Four “independent expert panels” have reviewed the science and determined it’s unlikely the chemical, a cash cow for agrochemical giant Monsanto, poses a carcinogenic risk to humans at all. Of course, whether that’s comforting depends on how you define “independent.”

That “independent” appears prominently in the title of the study, which was published this week in Critical Reviews in Toxicology, should probably be a tip-off. If you have to say you’re “independent”—i.e., you haven’t been swayed by the very company whose flagship product you’re evaluating—there’s a good chance you technically aren’t.

In this case, readers have to scroll aaaallll the way down to the “Declaration of Interest” to find out that, sure enough, the study was bought and paid for by Monsanto. The declaration goes on to state: “Neither any Monsanto company employees nor any attorneys reviewed any of the Expert Panel’s manuscripts prior to submission to the journal.”

The chemical in question is glyphosate, though you may know it better as the active ingredient in Monsanto’s blockbuster-selling herbicide Roundup. Ever since farmers went hog wild for the company’s Roundup Ready line of corn, soy, and other crops genetically modified to withstand regular applications of glyphosate, use of the chemical has skyrocketed.

That’s been a profit bonanza for Monsanto, but just as the company was being wooed for a possible merger with fellow Big Ag giant Bayer, the dominoes started to fall.

For starters, the International Agency for Research on Cancer slapped glyphosate with that “probable human carcinogen” label early last year. Around the same time, tests conducted by public health advocacy groups started finding the chemical in places you wouldn’t expect—including organic eggs and coffee creamer—suggesting that we might all be consuming more glyphosate than previously thought. Then there’s glyphosate’s suspected toll on the environment: Many wildlife biologists point to the explosive use of the chemical as a primary culprit behind the precipitous decline in monarch butterflies, for example, because glyphosate kills off the milkweed plants on which the butterflies depend for survival.

A worried public might also have taken comfort in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s announcement that it would host four days of public meetings come mid-October to examine the cancer risk posed by glyphosate. Then a few weeks ago, the EPA’s Office of Pesticide Programs went ahead and released its own assessment, complete with a “proposed” conclusion that the chemical is “not likely to be carcinogenic to humans at doses relevant to human health risk assessment.”

It was a cart-before-the-horse moment that seemed to signal the agency “has no intention of contradicting Monsanto’s claims of glyphosate’s safety,” writes Carey Gillam, research director at the nonprofit advocacy group U.S. Right to Know.

Why would it? The EPA has more or less allowed Monsanto and other chemical companies to unleash their glyphosate binge with virtually no restrictions, even as the agency now acknowledges much of the research on glyphosate is limited and out-of-date.

Seems with the most recent study, Monsanto is all too happy to try to fill in that gap.