Archive for April, 2017

Glyphosate and Prop 65

The latest story in the glyphosate saga is that it will now be put on California’s “Prop 65 List”. What is this Prop 65 list? It is a list of all chemicals the public may be exposed to in California that may cause cancer or birth defects. This list was born from the ballot initiative passed in 1986 called “The Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Substances Act”. The section of the act that cause the list to be made was the part that prohibited business from knowingly exposing the public to toxic substances without giving clear and reasonable warning. Products are required to carry a warning and business are required to post signs clearly stating the warning that substances known to cause cancer or birth defects are present. Any chemical that has a 1 in 100,000 chance of causing cancer over a 70-year period or birth defects or other reproductive harm in two ways are required to be listed. Signs are everywhere in California and most people don’t even notice them. Any place that sells coffee has a sign as there are chemicals in coffee that are listed. One of my favorite signs is this one below. Clearly they are not much of a concern to most people.


California does not do any of its own research to determine if chemicals meet this criteria so they have a system of reviewing research done by other organizations to figure out what chemicals should be listed. There are four ways a chemical can be listed and those can be found at California’s OEHHA site. The criteria that put glyphosate on the list is the first one, “At a minimum, the list must contain chemicals identified by reference in Labor Code section 6382(b)(1) or (d).  Labor Code section 6382(b)(1) incorporates chemicals identified by the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) as causing cancer in humans or laboratory animals.” Because the IARC listed glyphosate as a “class 2A carcinogen” California was compelled by regulation to put glyphosate on the Prop 65 list. Monsanto sued the State of California mainly on the merits of the scientific evidence, or lack thereof, that glyphosate was a carcinogen, but since the Prop 65 regulation doesn’t address the merits of the research, just that it is on a qualified list, Monsanto lost that battle. If it is on the IARC list, it is on the Prop 65 list.

But did Monsanto have cause to doubt the IARC listing? There is certainly plenty of suspicion on the process the IARC went through on making their determination. Faulty science reviews and cherry picking which data to include along with facts about members on the review team being tied to anti-GMO activist groups.  David Zaruk, an EU science communication specialist has written extensively on this subject and even was a victim of censorship from some EU outlets because of what he uncovered about what the IARC was doing. You can find a full review of his writings on this issue on his site the Risk Monger. I’ll give a summary below.

There are many more scientific bodies that do not agree with the IARC findings of glyphosate being carcinogenic. Three other WHO agencies, The International Programme on Chemical Safety, The WHO Core Assessment Group and WHO Guidelines for Drinking Water Safety all disagree with the IARC on this issue (there was also the mysteriously disappearing EPA review that was posted and then pulled that also disagreed with the IARC findings. No one seem to know what happened to that report). Two other EU agencies that European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and the German Institute for Risk Assessment (the BfR – responsible for managing the EU’s glyphosate risk assessment) have also come to the opposite view on glyphosate from the IARC. These two agencies do risk assessments. They looked at all the data available, asked for more data to fill data gaps, and then concluded that the herbicide could be safely managed and did not pose a risk to human health.

On the other side, IARC doesn’t do risk management but merely decides whether a substance can be considered as a carcinogen. But in their process on reviewing glyphosate they already had the conclusion they wanted decided upon before they started the review process. Thus they only used data and studies that fit the narrative they wanted to produce. Some of the studies they used were even discredited by scientific peer review as being flawed and providing very poor conclusions. Thus they came to the conclusion that glyphosate was a hazard and needed to be banned. “Risk management is the reduction of exposures to known hazards. The scientific community (including EFSA and the BfR) has largely determined that glyphosate is a minimal hazard (low toxicity) whose exposure can be easily managed so that we (farmers and consumers) can enjoy the benefits of better agricultural yields. IARC feels there is a hazard and it needs to be restricted”, concludes David Zaruk in his summary of the situation.

So where does this leave glyphosate and California’s Prop 65 list? Well, for now it stays on the list. If the pressure on the IARC to remove glyphosate from their list prevails and they pull it from their list California can decide to take it off the Prop 65 list. How will being on the Prop 65 list affect the products that contain glyphosate? Well if the traffic at Disneyland and Starbucks is any indication of the effects of something being on the Prop 65 list, I’d say sales of Roundup won’t be affected too much. But having it on the list could be a focus point for activist group looking for reasons to ban its use. California seems to be on a track for limiting pesticide use based on hazard alone. Managing risk seems to have gone out the window as more regulation is based on fear instead of a reasoned, scientific based foundation. When the country as a whole wants to get back to relying on science to make policy and regulation maybe the tides will turn.

Pesticide Fear Mongering continues on social media

Two headlines are traveling the social media circuit recently that continue to use non-scientific evaluations of pesticide use to try to shape the cultural myth that pesticides are inherently bad for everyone. The first one is the continued publication by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) of their so called Dirty Dozen list, a list that supposedly warns consumers of the produce with the highest pesticide residues. This list has been debunked by peer reviewed analysis to show that the methodology they use to rank the selected produce has no scientific backing. Even the very report the EWG says it uses to generate the data for their list, the USDA Pesticide Data Program (PDP,) states that the “… summary shows that, overall, pesticide residues found on foods tested are at levels below the tolerances set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and do not pose risk to consumers’ health. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has concluded that pesticide resi220px-Warning2Pesticidesdues pose no risk of concern for infants and children.” Nutritional experts continue to say that increasing the consumption of fruits and vegetable decreases the risk of heart disease, cancer, diabetes and obesity. This includes a recent study titled UCL study finds new evidence linking fruit and vegetable consumption with lower mortality. Studies have shown that conventional and organic produce have the same healthy outcomes for consumers. Why does the EWG continue to scare consumers away from healthy food choices? Because it fits the narrative they want to promote. They do not seem to care that studies are finding that their scare tactic are doing more harm than good, especially for low income shoppers who have far few food choices than other income groups.

The second is an article titled “UN experts denounce ‘myth’- pesticides are necessary to feed the world” published by The Guardian and picked up by a number of anti-pesticide activist sites. This report is yet another “white paper” put out as a UN source that is nothing more than an opinion piece. It doesn’t even quote or review any of the official UN FAO or scientific literature from any UN committees. It continues in the same way as the EWG piece, to come to a conclusion first and work backwards, using cherry picked peer reviewed studies, to find information to justify the headline. In his evaluation of the article, David Zaruk, an EU science communication specialists writes “The “Pesticides are a myth” report has no authors and was submitted in the name of a rapporteur who has no experience in agriculture. And the Guardian published an article without any interest in analyzing its foundations or sources – just quotes the “UN report”. It doesn’t look at the FAO or basic science.” Lumping all pesticides and all farming types into a story trying to say that the benefits of pesticides are a “myth” just doesn’t explore in depth the vast literature available that is contrary to the thesis of the article. The article even draws conclusions that are contrary to the sources it cites. “It is a myth,” said Hilal Elver, the UN’s special rapporteur on the right to food. “Using more pesticides is nothing to do with getting rid of hunger. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), we are able to feed 9 billion people today. Production is definitely increasing, but the problem is poverty, inequality and distribution.”
In a Facebook discussion digging into the articles references one commenter says, “Production is increasing because pesticides have enabled it. Their references don’t back their claims.” He then goes on to detail the conflicts in many of the cited reference and what the article is saying.

Fear of pesticides has been around a long time. Even before Racheal Carson’s “Silent Spring” people were questioning their wide spread use in farming. But questioning their use and using science to find out what the problems were and how to fix them has only strengthened the crop protection industry. Now trained professionals with expertise in Integrated Pest Management have the tools to carefully evaluate and choose the right crop protection product needed and have the information to evaluate and mediate health and environmental concerns. That knowledge is growing all the time. ‘Of course, there are always risks associated with using such chemicals, but the answer is to heavily regulate the industry and increase transparency, not to ban their use. The scientific evidence time and again demonstrates the benefits for using pesticides far outweighs the risks.’ – Professor Kathleen Lewis, Professor of Agricultural Chemistry at University of Hertfordshire’s Department of Human and Environmental Sciences (HES) and Research Leader for the Agriculture and Environment Research Unit (AERU). Crop protection tools are getting better all the time. They are becoming more environmentally friendly and safer for workers. New technologies are developing products that are more selective, targeting the pest and leaving other flora and fauna in our fields intact.

It is important for those in the agricultural industry to speak up and tell the truth about pesticides and their use so that the continued mantra of the “evil pesticide” is not the narrative that sticks in the minds of our consumers. People are susceptible to fear on topics they know very little about. Those of us that have the expertise on these matters should keep ourselves informed and be willing to engage people in conversations that will help educate and ease people’s fears. Acknowledge the reality of their fears and do not use scorn to put them down as that only further entrenches them in their position. Once you understand why they have the fears they do you can then empathize and tailor your response in a why they will be more accepting to the information.

Further reading:

Is Conventional Produce Dirty? No, But the Marketing Tactics Of Big Organic Are

Anti-Ag U.N. Report Written by Attorneys Argues for Big Ag

3 Reasons The EWG’s “Dirty Dozen” Is Still a Dirty Lie

The Perils of Anti-Pesticide Hysteria

For the Benefit of Consumers, It’s Time to Promote Positive, Reassuring Information

No, The UN Did Not Dismiss Pesticides as Unnecessary