by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Glyphosate

Sep 4 2018

How did glyphosate get into Cheerios?

The Environmental Working Group recently released a report on the amounts of glyphosate (Roundup) in children’s breakfast cereals, particularly those made with oats and wheat.

Roundup, you may recall, has been judged a probable carcinogen by the International Agency on Research on Cancer (IARC) and California courts.  It is used to kill weeds in fields growing crops genetically modified to resist Roundup.

But oats and wheat grown in the U.S. are not genetically modified.  The FDA’s list of genetically modified foods says nothing about oats and wheat, and the agency does not permit GMO versions to be marketed.

How could Cheerios and Quaker Oats be contaminated with glyphosate at amounts that exceed standards?

The explanation:

Increasingly, glyphosate is also sprayed just before harvest on wheat, barley, oats and beans that are not genetically engineered. Glyphosate kills the crop, drying it out so that it can be harvested sooner than if the plant were allowed to die naturally.

Really?  They spray glyphosate on oats just before harvest?  Yes, they do.

What this means is that more glyphosate gets into your food from the non-GMO wheat and oats sprayed just before harvest, then from GMO corn and soybeans sprayed earlier in their growth.

Whether eating glyphosate is bad for you or your kids is a matter of fierce debate.  As the New York Times explains, the safety of glyphosate is very much at issue:

In fact, it is central to a raging international debate about the chemical that has spawned thousands of lawsuits, allegations of faulty research supporting and opposing the chemical and a vigorous defense of the herbicide from Monsanto, the company that helped develop it 40 years ago and helped turn it into the most popular weedkiller in the world.

Scott Partridge, a vice president at Monsanto, said in an interview on Wednesday that hundreds of studies had validated the safety of glyphosate and that it doesn’t cause cancer. He called the Environmental Working Group an activist group.

“They have an agenda,” he said. “They are fear mongering. They distort science.”

The EWG states its advocacy position on its website:

The Environmental Working Group’s mission is to empower people to live healthier lives in a healthier environment. With breakthrough research and education, we drive consumer choice and civic action. We are a non-profit, non-partisan organization dedicated to protecting human health and the environment.

I do not view this report as distorting science.  If anything, it provides data that the industry is not collecting or does not want released.  This information is useful for making decisions about what to eat.

You don’t want your kids eating glyphosate while scientists are still in disagreement about the extent of its harm to human health?

  • Vote with your fork: Buy organic cereals; they have far less or no detectable glyphosate.
  • Vote with your vote: Call for policies to get these practices stopped.

Or you can consider a third option now in play: file a lawsuit.

Aug 13 2018

Jury rules Roundup carcinogenic, Monsanto malicious: awards $289 million to plaintiff

The Guardian’s account of the verdict: Monsanto ordered to pay $289m as jury rules weedkiller caused man’s cancer

Dewayne Johnson, a 46-year-old former groundskeeper, won a huge victory in the landmark case on Friday, with the jury determining that Monsanto’s Roundup weedkiller caused his cancer and that the corporation failed to warn him of the health hazards from exposure. The jury further found that Monsanto “acted with malice or oppression”…Johnson’s case was particularly significant because a judge allowed his team to present scientific arguments. The dispute centered on glyphosate, which is the world’s most widely used herbicide…During the lengthy trial, the plaintiff’s attorneys brought forward internal emails from Monsanto executives that they said demonstrated how the corporation repeatedly ignored experts’ warnings, sought favorable scientific analyses and helped to “ghostwrite” research that encouraged continued usage.

Here’s what this is about:

(1)  The carcinogenicity of Roundup (glyphosate)

In 2015, the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) ruled that glyphosate, the weed killer used with genetically modified crops, is “probably carcinogenic to humans.”  Glyphosate’s maker, Monsanto (now merged with Bayer) did not like this decision and went to work casting doubt on the science.  As IARC explains and documents:

Following the classification of glyphosate in March 2015 as probably carcinogenic to humans (Group 2A) by the IARC Monographs Programme, IARC has been the target of an unprecedented number of orchestrated actions by stakeholders seeking to undermine its credibility. In the interest of transparency, IARC has documented some of these instances, and our responses can be found on the Agency′s Governance website.

(2) What’s at stake for Monsanto

Glyphosate is used in incomprehensibly huge amounts.  The organic advocate, Charles Benbrook, published statistics on its use in 2016.  Monsanto’s published a rebuttal to Benbrook’s paper, but did not dispute his figures; instead, it argued only glyphosate is safe.  Benbrook’s data show that 250 million pounds of glyphosate were applied to US crops in 2014 (by another source, worldwide use was 825,804,000 kilograms, or more than 1.8 billion pounds that year).

(3) What’s at stake for the plaintiff, Dewayne Johnson

As the San Francisco Chronicle’s account explains:

Johnson was a groundskeeper and pest-control manager for Benicia schools from 2012 until May 2016. His job included spraying glyphosate, in the high-concentration brand called Ranger Pro, from 50-gallon drums 20 to 30 times a year for two to three hours a day.

He testified he wore protective clothing, including a sturdy jacket, goggles and a face mask, but said he couldn’t fully protect his face from wind-blown spray. And twice, he told the jury, he got drenched with the herbicide, once when a spray hose became detached from a truck that was hauling it, and another time when a backpack container he was carrying leaked.

After the first drenching in 2014, he said, he got rashes on his skin that did not respond to treatment. Welts and lesions soon appeared on his legs, arms, face and eyelids. His first cancer diagnoses came soon afterward.

(4)  The evidence for the jury’s decision

Through discovery during the trial, documents came to light exposing Monsanto’s efforts to discredit the science linking glyphosate to cancer.

U.S. Right to Know (USRTK) has performed an extraordinary public service by posting the key documents in the case on its website.  There, you can find links to an astonishing number of federal court and discovery documents, exhibits, news reports, and commentary.

Also worth reading: Stacy Malkin’s Secret Documents Expose Monsanto’s War on Cancer Scientists (July 12)

Monsanto was its own ghostwriter for some safety reviews,” Bloomberg reported, and an EPA official reportedly helped Monsanto “kill” another agency’s cancer study. An investigation in Le Monde details Monsanto’s effort “to destroy the United Nations’ cancer agency by any means possible” to save glyphosate.

(5) What this means: Comment from USRTK’s Carey Gillam

Monsanto and its chemical industry allies have spent decades actively working to confuse and deceive consumers, farmers, regulators and lawmakers about the risks associated with glyphosate-based herbicides. As they’ve suppressed the risks, they’ve trumpeted the rewards and pushed use of this weed killer to historically high levels. The evidence that has come to light from Monsanto’s own internal documents, combined with data and documents from regulatory agencies, could not be more clear: It is time for public officials across the globe to act to protect public health and not corporate profits.

(6) What happens next?

Monsanto will appeal, of course; its owner, Bayer, continues to insist that glyphosate is safe.  Press accounts say that hundreds, if not thousands, of more such cases are in the pipeline, a situation similar to that faced by the tobacco industry before that industry gave up and settled.  Will Bayer do so as well?  I’m guessing not without a fight.