Posts Tagged ‘cancer’

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.


How do you look at risk?

How do you evaluate risk in your life? Do you feel you can safely use your cell phone when you drive but cringe when you see someone else do it? Many of us feel risky behavior is not as risky when we are doing it because we are in control, or so it seems. But we don’t like it when someone else does it because we do not know if that person is going to do it safely enough to avoid hurting us. We will spray pesticides on our gardens, in our homes, etc when we see bugs, rodents, etc. Judging but the amount of these products use by homeowners it seems most people have no uneasiness in using them. Most people don’t like to share their living space with cockroaches and mice. But it seem there is a lot of uneasiness in some quarters about farmers using pesticides. We don’t know what they do, how they do it, we don’t know what the products are, etc. People tell us these things are bad and we are more likely to believe that because we view behaviors being done by others as risky. It is out of our comfort zone.

Let’s look at it from another angle. Let’s say you have an illness that is going to get very serious and may be life threatening. How you look at it will be determined a lot by how you feel about the disease you have. If it is cancer you will probably panic as that word has a lot of baggage attached to it. If it is something you have never heard of you may be less likely to panic but be pretty scared anyway. The doctor has two options for you. One is a very toxic dose of medicine with a high probability of nasty side effects but will probably get rid of the disease quickly. It is covered by your insurance. The other is not toxic but will take many more treatments over time and is not covered by your insurance. The toxic one will make you very sick and put a heavy burden on your family. But you have a better chance of recovery. What factors do you consider? Toxicity, cost, harm to others, quick recovery that has a high success rate, slow recovery with less of a chance at working. All interesting questions.

These are all very similar questions that a farmer and a pest control adviser must consider as well when treating a sick field. How bad is the problem? Does it need a quick fix? Will the quick fix be toxic to other things? What will those consequences be? How can they be mitigated? Will a less toxic option work? What are the economic costs? There are so many situations and possible solutions. These decisions are not made lightly or without due consideration. We do not live in a risk free world. Choices need to be made. You make them about your life, farmers make them about theirs. They are not evil doers, intent on poisoning your world or your children. When someone tries to scare you into thinking they are, remember, they live on that land and they have children too.