By Scott Partridge, Monsanto Vice President Global Strategy
At Monsanto, I work with many teams that research and develop products to help farmers, and ultimately, consumers, every day. These teams rely on the science to guide their decision-making, and they adhere to the rigorous regulatory processes established by governments around the world to bring our products to market. Recently, glyphosate, the main ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup agricultural herbicides, has been under attack by a French-based group called the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). Its activities have raised a lot of questions, which we intend to explore further.
A 40-Year History of Safe Use
Glyphosate has been called the most important herbicide developed in the post- World War II era. For over 40 years, the EPA – and all other regulatory and scientific agencies worldwide who have reviewed glyphosate – have concluded that glyphosate does not pose a cancer risk to humans. Many of these reviews were completed in the last few months. In April 2015, the Canadian Pest Management Regulatory Authority concluded that “glyphosate is unlikely to pose a human cancer risk.” In November 2015, the European Food Safety Authority concluded that “glyphosate is unlikely to pose a carcinogenic hazard to humans.” And in March 2016, the Food Safety Commission of Japan concluded, “No neurotoxicity, carcinogenicity, reproductive effect, teratogenicity or genotoxicity was observed.”
IARC’s Flawed Report, and Reactions from Scientists and Regulators
In March 2015, a non-governmental French-based group called the International Agency for Research on Cancer (“IARC”) reported that it had performed its own review of some glyphosate literature. During its one-week review process, the group, by its own admission, ignored much of the vast content and numerous studies used by governmental regulatory agencies and scientists over the past four decades to rigorously assess the safety of glyphosate. Instead, the IARC group selected a subset of information for review, including reports that were self-authored by IARC’s own members, and studies that had been soundly discredited by other scientists. Following IARC’s abbreviated and subjective review of a portion of the literature, the group reached a flawed conclusion, claiming glyphosate is “a probable carcinogen.” Members of the IARC panel then mounted an aggressive publicity and lobbying campaign to convince others, even though their conclusion contradicted the findings of all the other scientists and global regulatory agencies that have addressed the issue, including three other entities within the World Health Organization.
Given the obvious flaws in its process, the IARC report has spurred much direct criticism from global regulatory agencies and scientific experts, who have confirmed that the scientific evidence does not support IARC’s conclusions; and other prominent scientists have claimed IARC even misrepresented their work altogether. For example, the German Rapporteur Member State for the glyphosate re-evaluation in the EU discredited the IARC claims in a 122 page, study-by-study assessment of the IARC work, and concluded “the weight of evidence suggests that there is no carcinogenic risk related to the intended herbicidal uses and, in addition no hazard classification for carcinogenicity is warranted for glyphosate according to the CLP criteria.” And Dr. Keith Solomon, a renowned scientist in this area that was cited by IARC, left no doubt about their misuse of his work, stating, “They (IARC) got this totally wrong. They said the study showed there was a relationship…. It’s certainly a different conclusion than the one we came to.”
EPA’s Cancer Assessment Review Committee Report
Most recently, the EPA added its weight to the debate, with an 87-page “Final Report” from the EPA’s own Cancer Assessment Review Committee (“CARC”) on April 29, 2016. The EPA’s scientists thoroughly reviewed the mutagenicity studies, toxicology studies and epidemiology studies (including, among others, the Department of Health and Human Service’s large, prospective Agricultural Health Study), with a particular focus on those studies that IARC found persuasive. The EPA specifically addressed and rejected each of the lines of evidence used by IARC, and reaffirmed the safety of glyphosate. The EPA’s Final Report, like those from other agencies around the world, used sound science and a rigorous process to set the record straight on the safety of glyphosate.
Questions about IARC and the harm it is causing to public policy
The controversial IARC claims continue to create unfounded confusion, public fear, and wasted resources. In large part, this is due to the aggressive publicity and lobbying campaign initiated by IARC scientists, who are trying to convince regulators to replace the body of well-established science with IARC’s flawed findings and biased perspectives. This is creating needlessly misinformed debate, undermining public policy, and harming affected industries that depend on thorough and accurate scientific assessments.
The publications and tactics of IARC and its members about glyphosate raise many serious questions about their purposes and processes. And while pretending to operate under a banner of science, they abuse and ultimately undermine the fundamental public trust placed in our scientific institutions. Given the importance of these issues to the public, to farmers, to our industry, and to the thousands of real scientists and public health officials working hard every day to fulfill their mission, we intend to find answers to the numerous questions surrounding IARC… and we will share what we learn. But from what we’ve seen thus far, the IARC efforts have little to do with science or public health.
It is my hope that sound science and rigorous regulatory processes will continue to guide our public health debates and policies.