Glyphosate is a broad-spectrum systemic herbicide used to kill weeds, especially annual broadleaf weeds and grasses known to compete with commercial crops grown around the globe.
Monsanto brought glyphosate to market in the 1970s under the trade name Roundup.
In March of 2015, the World Health Organization announced that Roundup is "probably a carcinogen." IARC Monographs Volume 112: evaluation of five organophosphate insecticides and herbicides. March 20 2015. Read the announcement.
The following article provides a good overview of the health issues and public policy position relating to Roundup.
Roundup and Birth Defects: Is the Public Being Kept in the Dark?
By: Michael Antoniou, Mohamed Ezz El-Din Mostafa Habib, C. Vyvyan HowardRichard C. Jennings, Carlo Leifert, Rubens Onofre Nodari, Claire Robinson, John Fagan
Concerns about the best-selling herbicide Roundup® are running at an all-time high. Scientific research published in 2010 showed that Roundup and the chemical on which it is based, glyphosate, cause birth defects in frog and chicken embryos at dilutions much lower than those used in agricultural and garden spraying. The EU Commission dismissed these findings, based on a rebuttal provided by the German Federal Office for Consumer Protection and Food Safety, BVL. BVL cited unpublished industry studies to back its claim that glyphosate was safe. The Commission has previously ignored or dismissed many other findings from the independent scientific literature showing that Roundup and glyphosate cause endocrine disruption, damage to DNA, reproductive and developmental toxicity, neurotoxicity, and cancer, as well as birth defects. Many of these effects are found at very low doses, comparable to levels of pesticide residues found in food and the environment.
This issue is of particular concern now that Monsanto and other producers of genetically modified seed are trying to get their glyphosate-tolerant crops approved for cultivation in Europe. If the EU Commission gives its approval, this will lead to a massive increase in the amount of glyphosate sprayed in the fields of EU member states, as has already happened in North and South America. Consequently, people’s exposure to glyphosate will increase.
All these concerns could be addressed by an objective review of Roundup and glyphosate in line with the more stringent new EU pesticide regulation due to come into force in June 2011. Just such a review was due to take place in 2012. However, shortly after the Commission was notified of the latest research showing that glyphosate and Roundup cause birth defects, it quietly passed a directive delaying the review of glyphosate and 38 other dangerous pesticides until 2015. This delay is being challenged in a lawsuit brought against the Commission by Pesticides Action Network Europe and Greenpeace.
Delaying the review of glyphosate until 2015 is serious enough. But in reality, the Commission’s slowness in preparing the new data requirements for the incoming regulation mean that glyphosate may well not be re-assessed in the light of up-to-date science until 2030. The beneficiary will be the pesticide industry; the victim will be public health.
The need for a review of glyphosate is particularly urgent in the light of the shortcomings of the existing review of the pesticide, on which its current approval rests. In this report, we examine the industry studies and regulatory documents that led to this approval. We show that industry and regulators knew as long ago as the 1980s and 1990s that glyphosate causes malformations – but that this information was not made public. We demonstrate how EU regulators reasoned their way from clear evidence of glyphosate’s teratogenicity in industry’s own studies (the same studies that BVL claimed show the safety of glyphosate) to a conclusion that minimized these findings in the EU Commission’s final review report.
The German government and its agencies played a central role in this process. As the “rapporteur” member state for glyphosate, Germany was responsible for liaising between industry and the EU Commission and reporting the findings of industry studies. We show how Germany played down findings of serious harm in industry studies on glyphosate. It irresponsibly proposed a high “safe” exposure level for the public that ignored important data on glyphosate’s teratogenic effects. This level was accepted by the Commission and is now in force.
Taken together, the industry studies and regulatory documents on which the current approval of glyphosate rests reveal that:
Industry (including Monsanto) has known since the 1980s that glyphosate causes malformations in experimental animals at high doses
Industry has known since 1993 that these effects could also occur at lower and mid doses
The German government has known since at least 1998 that glyphosate causes malformations
The EU Commission’s expert scientific review panel knew in 1999 that glyphosate causes malformations
The EU Commission has known since 2002 that glyphosate causes malformations. This was the year its DG SANCO division published its final review report, laying out the basis for the current approval of glyphosate.
The public, in contrast, has been kept in the dark by industry and regulators about the ability of glyphosate and Roundup to cause malformations. In addition, the work of independent scientists who have drawn attention to the herbicide’s teratogenic effects has been ignored, denigrated, or dismissed. These actions on the part of industry and regulators have endangered public health. They have also contributed to the growing division between independent and industry science, which in turn erodes public trust in the regulatory process.
This report provides a comprehensive review of the peer-reviewed scientific literature, documenting the serious health hazards posed by glyphosate and Roundup herbicide formulations.
On the basis of this evidence, we call on the Commission to cancel its delay in reviewing glyphosate and to arrange an objective review of the pesticide. The review must take into account the full range of independent scientific literature, as demanded by the new pesticides regulation, and should be started as soon as the new data requirements are in place this year. In the meantime, the Commission should use its powers to withdraw glyphosate and Roundup from the market.
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