In a Special Report published on June 14, 2017, investigators at Reuters uncovered the shocking fact that an American scientist, Dr. Aaron Blair, the Chairman of the International Agency for Research on Cancer’s (IARC) Monograph 112 on glyphosate, suppressed critically important science.
The hidden science in question is recent data from the Agricultural Health Study (AHS), the largest and most comprehensive study ever conducted on pesticide exposure in humans. Evidence shows that Dr. Blair withheld updated data from the study which evaluates the pesticide exposure of more than 50,000 farmers and their families. The updated data reinforces the study’s original conclusion in 2005 that there is no evidence linking glyphosate exposure to cancer incidence.
The AHS was led by scientists from the U.S. National Cancer Institute (NCI), including Dr. Blair himself! Under oath, Blair admitted that had IARC considered the study, it likely would have changed its conclusion on glyphosate: “[the] data would have altered IARC’s analysis.” Even so, IARC told Reuters it will not reconsider its conclusions on glyphosate, which are out of step with every other world regulator that has studied glyphosate.
Perhaps the most surprising revelation is that Dr. Blair, as an author of the AHS, was aware that this updated data existed since 2013. Incredibly, he claimed that this critical data had not yet been published due to spacing constraints.
According to Reuters’ investigation, the data was not published in time because “there was too much to fit into one scientific paper.” Since IARC made its determination based, in part, on “limited evidence” of cancer in humans, this data would have been significant.
This bombshell revelation is important for three reasons:
The fundamental tenets of a scientific approach are to identify a problem, form a hypothesis, objectively gather and analyze data, and come to a conclusion (whether one’s hypothesis is right or wrong) based on the analytical results. The Reuters investigation shows that IARC, a World Health Organization (WHO)-affiliated entity, failed to honor a key scientific principle of objectivity in gathering and analyzing data.
Virtually every prominent global regulatory authority has concluded glyphosate is not a human carcinogen. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA), and a joint UN/WHO working group have all determined that the pesticide is not carcinogenic. Additionally, EPA, UN and EFSA have all relied upon the AHS for their glyphosate risk assessments. IARC, however, came to a different conclusion as a result of the agency’s flawed research methodologies, which have been criticized by regulatory bodies such as the EPA in the past. So much for IARC being the so-called “Gold Standard.”
Even before the existence of this critical data became public knowledge via Reuters reporting, EPA had deemed all three case-control studies used by IARC to support its glyphosate determination as inferior to the AHS.
EPA’s Cancer Assessment Review Committee, also criticized IARC’s methodology, saying the monograph included “positive findings from studies with known limitations,” lacked “reproducible positive findings,” and omitted “negative findings from reliable studies” which “may have had a significant bearing on IARC’s conclusion on the genotoxic potential of glyphosate.”
Unfortunately, IARC’s research flaws can have real-world impacts for farmers who rely on glyphosate as a critical component for day-to-day crop protection and soil conservation. Glyphosate limits soil erosion by promoting no-till farming, a practice that has revolutionized modern agriculture for the better. Glyphosate also reduces soil impaction due to the fact that it doesn’t have to be repeatedly applied. Perhaps most importantly, it increases crop yields up to 30 percent by controlling weeds.
U.S. government entities have already advanced policies affecting glyphosate based on IARC’s conclusions. For instance, California’s Proposition 65 requires companies to put a warning label on products containing glyphosate, a move which causes unnecessary alarm and confusion for Californian consumers. If U.S. policymakers were to follow California’s lead and IARC’s flawed conclusion, and institute harsher regulations against the herbicide, America’s farmers could be deeply impacted. For example, a glyphosate ban would be an extreme, but plausible policy, which would decimate crops, bankrupt farmers, and critically affect the supply of staple grains consumed around the globe.
As evidence shows, IARC Working Groups, especially the Monograph 112 Working Group, are not impartial scientists seeking to conduct a neutral review of the science. Consider the following:
The allegations made in the Reuters investigation are very serious. ACC’s Campaign for Accuracy in Public Health Research (CAPHR) adds this latest development to the ever-growing list of cases where IARC’s monographs have lacked scientific integrity, confused the general public, or contributed to misinformed policies that impact Americans, and in the case of glyphosate, farmers.
It is clear that there is a need for an investigation into whether IARC officials knowingly withheld data that proved a lack of association between glyphosate and cancer. IARC’s insistence on cherry-picking studies as the Reuters article reveals, and releasing hazard assessments that do not take into account exposure or real world scenarios as CAPHR has previously flagged, underscores the urgent need to reform the agency’s monograph program.