Monsanto Earnings Jump on Corn Seed Pesticide Sales

EPA Rules Glyphosate Presents No Risk to Public Health

May 1, 2019
Popular herbicide has long been the center of debate among farmers, consumer groups and international regulatory agencies.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is the latest governmental agency to reaffirm its stance on glyphosate, the most widely-used herbicide in U.S. agriculture.

In an April 30 announcement, the EPA stated it continues to see no human health risk with use, discounting claims that glyphosate causes cancer.

“EPA has found no risks to public health from the current registered uses of glyphosate,” EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said to the public. “Today’s proposed action includes new management measures that will help farmers use glyphosate in the most effective and efficient way possible, including pollinator protections. We look forward to input from farmers and other stakeholders to ensure that the draft management measures are workable, realistic, and effective.”

Environmental groups and regulatory agencies across the globe have long debated on the potential health impact of the broad-spectrum herbicide. Multinational agrichemical and biotech company Monsanto discovered the weed killer in 1970. 

Bayer acquired Monsanto in a $63 billion purchase in 2018.

“Bayer firmly believes that the science supports the safety of glyphosate-based herbicides,” the company responded in light of the recent announcement.

A March 2015 study from the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) unanimously concluded that Roundup is a “probable” human carcinogen.

Multiple class-action lawsuits have been filed throughout the years on behalf of farmers and consumers who claim that the use of glyphosate allegedly leads to health issues.

U.S. juries have awarded two California farmers millions of dollars after the men claimed they had cancer as a result of using the weed killer on their crops. The first man reportedly will receive $78 million if Bayer's appeals are denied. In March 2019, a jury ruled the second man should receive $80 million.

In 2017, communications between Monsanto employees were released as evidence in a class-action lawsuit filed by California farm workers who alleged that glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto's Roundup, caused them to develop cancer.

Previously-sealed documents showed Jess Rowland, a now-retired EPA official, allegedly colluded with Monsanto experts to allow sales of Roundup. Court documents comprised of internal emails showed that some research previously relied upon actually had been conducted by the company's employees.

 “Consumers are told to rely on the EPA to determine the safety of chemicals like glyphosate, and products like Roundup,” Ronnie Cummins, international director of the Organic Consumers Association, previously said in a statement. “When credible sources indicate that EPA officials have deliberately compromised the safety of the public, consumers have a right to know. Monsanto should not be allowed to continue to profit from sales of a product that some EPA scientists, and scientists at World Health Organization, have determined is likely to cause cancer.”

Monsanto responded, saying the messages were taken "out of context."

Charla Lord, Monsanto corporate engagement representative, previously responded to EHS Today about the allegations:

"We empathize with anyone facing cancer.  We can also confidently say that glyphosate is not the cause. No regulatory agency in the world considers glyphosate a carcinogen.

Still, plaintiffs’ attorneys in the United States have been soliciting plaintiffs for potential lawsuits since an ad hoc working group called IARC incorrectly classified glyphosate. These attorneys are attempting to tie the IARC classification to individual cases of cancer, and they have been running advertisements to recruit plaintiffs. These lawsuits have no merit."

Monsanto's full response is available here.

According to the EPA, the weed killer is used on 100 food crops, including glyphosate-resistant corn, soybean, cotton, canola and sugar beet. Non-agricultural uses include residential areas, aquatic areas, forests, rights of way, ornamentals and turf.

While the agency did not identify public health risks a recent human health risk assessment, the 2017 ecological assessment did identify ecological risks. To address these risks, EPA is proposing management measures to help farmers target pesticide sprays on the intended pest, protect pollinators and reduce the problem of weeds becoming resistant to glyphosate.

“If we are going to feed 10 billion people by 2050, we are going to need all the tools at our disposal, which includes the use the glyphosate,” U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue said. “USDA applauds EPA’s proposed registration decision as it is science-based and consistent with the findings of other regulatory authorities that glyphosate does not pose a carcinogenic hazard to humans.”

Once the Federal Register notice about the EPA's finding is published, the public will be able to submit feedback about the agency's proposed decision at in docket # EPA-HQ-OPP-2009-0361.

About the Author

Stefanie Valentic

Stefanie Valentic was formerly managing editor of EHS Today, and is currently editorial director of Waste360.

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