Monsanto came out swinging after the the World Health Organization said that glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup, is “probably” carcinogenic. The review, conducted by WHO’s International Agency for Research In Cancer, found that glyphosate increased risks for non-Hodgkin lymphoma as well as DNA and chromosomal damage.
Monsanto’s emphatic press release of March 20 attacking the very consideration of that probability was followed by a string of media stories that gave full airing to the corporation’s complaints. At the same time, some reporters — Alice G. Walton at Forbes and Mark Bittmann at The New York Times — began to question what they were hearing from the chem-ag giant.
Bittmann’s piece brought a testy letter to the Times from a Monsanto “Associate Medical Director” that echoed the press release in no uncertain terms.
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Both the press release and Monsanto spokesmen never mention the words “Non-Hodgkin lymphoma,” a particularly devious form of cancer of the lymph nodes and blood, and “chromosomal damage.”
The shrillness of Monsanto’s tone have seemed to work against them. Their denials carried a blatant disregard of risks to our children and ourselves, a disregard starkly apparent to everyone but them. We’ve come to expect nothing less from Monsanto.
Now there’s something of a backlash brewing. Even The New York Times which gave Monsanto plenty of space in its initial story of the WHO report, dares to bring up an important question. How did glyphosate, first declared a class C carcinogen by the Environmental Protection Agency in 1985, come to be declared non-carcinogenic by the EPA six years later?
The Times story also points that the WHO commission as a rule doesn’t consider studies not published by government or independent journals, a category that usually excludes those funded and/or conducted by the manufacturers of the suspected carcinogens. One of Monsanto’s major complaints is that these studies, which largely absolve Roundup of danger, were excluded from the IARC review.
There were three major studies linking glyphosate exposure to non-Hodgkins lymphoma that the WHO commission cited as being reason for concern, one each in Canada, Sweden, and the U.S. Shouldn’t that be enough to hold the world’s largest selling herbicide suspect? From the Times:
“All three lines of evidence sort of said the same thing, which is we ought to be concerned about this,” said Aaron Blair, a retired epidemiologist from the National Cancer Institute who was chairman of the group of 17 reviewers from around the world; agreement on the classification was unanimous.
It’s obvious that Monsanto and the IARC reached their conclusions in different ways. Monsanto says that the preponderance (in other words, not all) of the evidence, much of it their own, reveals no cancer risk. The IARC and other cancer research organizations think that any studies suggesting a link between the herbicide and cancer require that we look further into the problem rather than disregard it.
Another thing the Monsanto spokespeople never mention is that suggestion of probability, not certainty, makes a call for further study critical. We suspect that study, especially study that Monsanto doesn’t control, is the last thing the company wants to see.
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