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"By denying scientific principles, one may maintain any paradox." – Galileo Galilei

Most Comprehensive Study Ever to be Conducted on Glyphosate Finally Published

The EU voted last November to renew the license of glyphosate for another five years – in other words, science finally triumphed in a debate that has, up until this point, been dominated by politics.

Interestingly, just ahead of this important final vote, the Agricultural Health Study (AHS) – the landmark report which found no evidence linking glyphosate to cancer – was finally published in Journal of the National Cancer Institute (JNCI).

The implications of the AHS publication are huge. Not only is the AHS the most comprehensive study ever to be conducted on glyphosate, the study is also at the center of recent revelations that the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), a publicly-funded research agency that assesses cancer hazards, failed to consider critical data in its glyphosate evaluation.

As Reuters reported this summer, Aaron Blair, IARC’s chair of Monograph 112 on glyphosate, ironically, coauthor of the AHS study, knew about the AHS data since 2013. However, Blair told Reuters that he didn’t include the data in IARC’s glyphosate evaluation because it had not been published yet due to “space constraints.”  According to Blair, the data “was not published in time because there was too much to fit into one scientific paper.” Blair admitted under oath that had IARC considered the study, it likely would have changed its conclusion on glyphosate, stating: “[the] data would have altered IARC’s analysis.”

Even Mother Jones found this suspicious – as reporter Kiera Butler writes,

I called Michael Eisen, a professor of genetics, genomics, and development at the University of California-Berkeley. Eisen is the founder of the Public Library of Science and an outspoken advocate of transparency in science. He told me that in this particular case, he found IARC’s rule “silly.”

“This is a board of people whose job it is to assess evidence, so they should be able to do that before it’s published,” he said. “The broader issue is that they seem eager to have reached the conclusion that they reached.” He pointed out that in this case, peer review seems a little unnecessary—the review panel itself was made up of experts, so they would have had no trouble evaluating the quality of the data.

Not long after that story broke, Politico uncovered another instance of IARC’s data suppression.  In a sworn deposition, IARC Monograph Working Group scientist Charles Jameson told lawyers that IARC failed to share with his group two other German studies that showed no link between glyphosate and cancer. If that’s not enough, Reuters also found that IARC’s Monographs program actually edited out “non-carcinogenic” findings from its glyphosate review.

Did mounting scrutiny lead to IARC chief’s departure?

Considering all this, it’s not that surprising IARC recently posted a job advertisement to replace its current director, Christopher Wild, who has held the post since 2009.

About a week before that announcement, House Science, Space and Technology Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) and Environment Subcommittee Chairman Andy Biggs (R-Ariz) sent letters to U.S. Health and Human Services (HHS) Acting Secretary Eric Hargan and IARC director Christopher Wild questioning IARC’s scientific integrity regarding its assessment of glyphosate, and its communications with HHS entities. The letters signalled that the Committee may soon ask IARC to testify on how it conducts its scientific reviews.

The House Science Committee letters followed the announcement of an investigation by House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Trey Gowdy into why the National Institutes of Health (NIH) had failed to publish the AHS data. Former Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK), Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK), and EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt also called on NIH to release the AHS. On top of all this, there have been numerous letters sent by members of Congress questioning IARC’s methodologies and suppression of information. 

Even more European studies find no link between glyphosate and cancer

Study after study in Europe has found that there’s no credible link between glyphosate and cancer. Most recently, the Swiss Government released an official determination that glyphosate should not be classified as carcinogenic, reprotoxic or harmful to fertility. Glyphosate also meets all requirements in protection of the environment, according to the Swiss government, and therefore a ban in Switzerland is unjustified.

This comes after Europe’s top scientific agencies also concluded that the herbicide is safe. Just as a refresher, European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) found, “glyphosate is unlikely to pose a carcinogenic hazard to humans and the evidence does not support classification with regard to its carcinogenic potential.” The European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) determined, “the available scientific evidence did not meet the criteria to classify glyphosate as a carcinogen, as a mutagen or as toxic for reproduction.”

Further, the Bundesinstitut fur Risikobewertung (BfR) in Germany concluded, “the available data do not show carcinogenic or mutagenic properties of glyphosate nor that glyphosate is toxic to fertility, reproduction or embryonal/fetal development in laboratory animals.”  Numerous European policymakers agree – for some examples, click here.

The European Crop Protection Association (ECPA) highlighted the overwhelming scientific evidence finding glyphosate is safe by projecting the data on the European Parliament buildings in Brussels.


Politics still at play?

The science and the facts are clear: study after study from international, European and American scientific institutions have concluded glyphosate is safe. Meanwhile, there have been numerous revelations of IARC suppressing critical data finding no link between glyphosate and cancer – and now IARC’s chief is stepping down.

While science seems to have prevailed at the moment, there’s no question politics has been at the center of this debate from the beginning – and will likely continue to play a major role going forward.