Despite new research published this month revealing that the active ingredient in Roundup known as glyphosate may not cause cancer, environmental regulators across the world remain split on the safety of the world’s most popular weedkiller.
According to results published Nov. 9 in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, researchers followed over 50,000 people exposed to glyphosate and found no association between that exposure and most types of cancers.
The weedkiller known as Roundup has been at the center of a cancer controversy since 2015 when the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), a specialized cancer agency of the World Health Organization, classified glyphosate as “probably carcinogenic to humans.” The agency cited a positive association between exposure to the chemical and non-Hodgkin lymphoma, a potentially deadly cancer.
Despite its conclusion, this latest study has not changed glyphosate’s perception around the world, as regulatory committees continue taking action against the chemical.
European Regulators Remain Divided on Safety of Glyphosate
The results of the study came out the same day members of the European Union failed to reauthorize glyphosate for use in Europe for an additional five years.
An appeals committee will convene again in November to determine whether the Roundup chemical will be allowed to continue before its registration expires in December, according to The New York Times.
The vote was 37 percent in favor of renewing the chemical and about 32 percent against. Since the voting was weighted based on population and required a majority, opposition from France and Italy played a big role in the chemical’s defeat.
The Glyphosate Task Force, a trade group that includes Monsanto and Syngenta, was critical of the EU’s failure to renew.
“The GTF considers this situation to be discriminatory and unacceptable,” the group said in a statement. “Ultimately, failure to renew the approval of glyphosate based on political considerations will only serve to seriously undermine the credibility of the EU legislative framework within an international context and will put European agriculture at competitive disadvantage.”
California Adds Roundup Chemical to List of Carcinogens
Along with the classification and failure to receive renewal in Europe, Roundup is the target of regulators and lawsuits in the United States as well. Earlier this year, California added glyphosate to its list of chemicals known to cause cancer under the rules of Proposition 65. Classification under Proposition 65 means companies selling products containing the chemical must add warning labels to the packaging.
Despite a report from Reuters in June that one of the scientists leading the IARC’s review of the chemical in 2015 did not take into account data that showed glyphosate did not cause cancer, California cited IARC as an example of the dangers of glyphosate.
Monsanto attempted to challenge the ruling, but the chemical was added to the list on July 7, 2017.
Roundup Remains Target of Lawsuits in the United States
Conflicting studies and confusion aside, hundreds of people have filed lawsuits against Monsanto over allegations that Roundup gave them cancer.
Farmers and gardeners around the country claim that using Roundup led to their non-Hodgkin lymphoma diagnosis.
In one case, for example, Terri McCall says Roundup killed her husband. Jack McCall grew avocados and fruit on a 20-acre ranch and avoided chemicals — except for Roundup.
In 2012, their dog developed lymphoma and died. In 2015, Jack was diagnosed with a rare form of non-Hodgkin lymphoma and died by the end of the year. Now, Terri is suing Monsanto in a wrongful death lawsuit claiming the company hid glyphosate’s cancer risks.
Her case is similar to hundreds of others taking on Monsanto over claims of negligence and failure to warn.
Documents Reveal Monsanto May Have Manipulated Studies
Even with this latest study showing no apparent connection between Roundup and cancer, many remain skeptical of the findings.
When court documents in the cases against Monsanto were unsealed in March, they raised questions about the agrochemical giant’s research practices. According to internal emails from the company, Monsanto may have ghostwritten research later attributed to academics saying glyphosate was safe.
According to The New York Times, files also suggest that an official in the Environmental Protection Agency — which has had internal disagreements over the safety of glyphosate — had potentially worked in Monsanto’s interests.
Monsanto insists that the paper underwent a rigorous review process and was not ghostwritten by its scientists. Still, questions remain about the company’s conduct and possible manipulation of academic research.