My latest Op Ed submission. Disclaimer: this may hit a nerve….
Ever the hotbed for political action, San Francisco is currently ground zero for a heated federal court hearing on the safety of a weed-killing chemical called glyphosate. This chemical is an active ingredient used in Monsanto’s branded Roundup, one of the world’s leading herbicides. More than 375 lawsuits are pending against Monsanto, filed by people alleging that exposure to Roundup herbicide caused them or their loved ones to develop non-Hodgkin lymphoma, and that Monsanto covered up the risks.1 U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria is presiding over this case, allowing evidence only from experts in cancer science to inform the argument. Ultimately, he will decide if the lawsuits move forward in court. Although a shadow was cast over the plaintiffs arguing against Monsanto when Judge Chhabria referred to epidemiology, the study of disease determinants, as a “loosey-goosey” and “highly subjective field”2, there is by-and-large sufficient evidence linking glyphosate to negative health impacts. It is time that we finally put a stop to spraying glyphosate on our food and surrounding environment.
Introduced in 1974, glyphosate was touted as one of the safest of all pesticides ever brought to market. In fact, Monsanto declared Roundup to be as safe as table salt.3 And so, Roundup became the world’s leading weed killer, being used mostly on crops, but also in city parks, on school playgrounds and on homeowners’ lawns. Studies show that glyphosate is now present in all levels of the food chain, including in water, plants, animals, and even in humans.4 In a paper published in JAMA in 2017, researchers found increasing levels of glyphosate in the urine of 70 patients living in Southern California over a 23 year period.5 Even more recent, earlier this month a study was published reporting over 90% of pregnant women tested were found to have detectable levels of glyphosate in their urine. Higher glyphosate urine levels were significantly correlated with shortened gestational length.7 As exposure to this chemical has increased, so too has the prevalence of cancers and other negative health outcomes with mounting evidence pointing to glyphosate as an associated cause.
Despite Monsanto’s attempts to stamp out the science against glyphosate, in March 2015, the WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) did an in-depth review of many scientific studies and concluded that glyphosate had a positive association with non-Hodgkin lymphoma.3 In the few decades leading up to this study review, non-Hodgkin lymphoma had steadily increased to become the tenth most common cancer worldwide, with nearly 386,000 new cases diagnosed in 2012.3 Their reviews produced evidence that glyphosate is an endocrine disruptor, causing DNA and chromosomal damage in human cells. Once released, the IARC findings were heavily contested, with Monsanto pointing to other recent studies showing glyphosate to be safe. However, documents have been found in which Monsanto executives discussed “ghostwriting” scientific papers to their favor, as well as paying experts who would lend credibility in their defense of glyphosate.3
Yet even before the IARC report, a separate systematic review of literature on the effects of pesticide use on chronic health outcomes was conducted in Canada by a group of family physicians, cancer specialists and epidemiologists. Back in 2007, their review included a well-designed study that found elevated risk of non-Hodgkin lymphoma with exposure to glyphosate.8 While glyphosate is not banned in Canada, starting in 2019 they will be instituting new measures to reduce human exposure by mandating products that contain glyphosate to have labels with explicit directions to avoid spraying in areas of human activity.9 Across the globe, doctors and health specialists recommend, if not downright demand, that we discontinue using glyphosate.
However, with Roundup being the most widely used herbicide worldwide – in the United States alone, over 1.8 million tons of glyphosate ingredient have been applied since it hit the market in 19746 – it’s no wonder Monsanto has taken such extreme measures to protect its asset. But if we continue to allow corporate interests to direct and dictate the science that safeguards our health, then we are agreeing to be the test cases for their chemical experiments. Right now, Judge Chhabria is the gatekeeper in this long battle for our health to come before corporate profit. His approval of the case would mean we are one step closer to ridding ourselves of this toxic chemical. Therefore, I urge Judge Chhabria to look at the science as well as the death toll – how many more people need to become ill or die before we realize the err in our ways?
Approve the case, Judge Chhabria, and let’s put an end to spraying poison on our food.
- US Right to Know. (2018). The Monsanto Papers: MDL Roundup (Glyphosate) Cancer Case Key Documents & Analysis. https://usrtk.org/pesticides/mdl-monsanto-glyphosate-cancer-case-key-documents-analysis/
- Rosenblatt, J. (2018, March 14). Monsanto Judge Says Expert Testimony Against Roundup Is ‘Shaky’. https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-03-14/monsanto-judge-says-expert-testimony-against-roundup-is-shaky
- Gillam, Carey. (2017). Whitewash: The Story of a Weed Killer, Cancer and the Corruption of Science. Washington, DC. Island Press.
- The Detox Project. (2018). Glyphosate in Food & Water. https://detoxproject.org/glyphosate-in-food-water/
- Galindo, Y. (2017, October 24). Exposure to Glyphosate, Chemical Found in Weed Killers, Increased Over 23 Years. https://health.ucsd.edu/news/releases/Pages/2017-10-24-exposure-to-glyphosate-chemical-found-in-weed-killer-increased-over-23-years.aspx
- Benbrook, C. (2016, February 2). Trends in glyphosate herbicide use in the United States and globally. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5044953/
- Parvez, S., Gerona R., Proctor C., Friesen, M., Ashby, J., Reiter, J., Lui, Z., Wichester, P. (2018, March 9). Glyphosate exposure in pregnancy and shortened gestational length: a prospective Indiana birth cohort study. https://ehjournal.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12940-018-0367-0
- Bassil, K., Vakil, C., Sanborn, M., Cole, D., Kaur, J., Kerr, K. (2007, October). Cancer health effects of pesticides. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2231435/
- CBC News. (2017, April 28). Glyphosate labels to change, Health Canada Announces. http://www.cbc.ca/news/health/glyphosate-1.4091495