As a bonus, glyphosate was remarkably benign from an environmental standpoint. In general, insecticides are toxic to humans because humans are quite a bit like bugs. Herbicides, on the other hand, are generally not very toxic to humans, because we aren’t a lot like plants. But even in this context, glyphosate stood out as a harmless chemical. It targets an enzyme that is found in plants, but not in humans or animals. Moreover, glyphosate breaks down easily and does not persist in the environment. It is pretty much the perfect herbicide (until resistance starts to develop, but that’s another story).
This sounds like a win-win situation–cheaper food, better health, longer lifespans–but some people irrationally hate genetically modified crops, even though the modification–in this case, making the corn or soybean plant tolerant of glyphosate–has nothing to do with its nutritional value. After decades of world-wide experience with glyphosate, it was accepted that the product was safe. So it was a bombshell when the International Agency for Research on Cancer declared, in March 2015, that glyphosate is “probably carcinogenic,” based on tests on rodents.
Hundreds of cancer patients promptly sued Monsanto, claiming the company had concealed the danger of carcinogenicity, notwithstanding the fact that it would be hard to find a farmer who hadn’t been exposed to glyphosate. The European Union said it would consider IARC’s finding when deciding whether to continue to allow glyphosate to be used in Europe. “Environmentalists” had scored a major coup.
But the whole thing turned out to be a fraud. Reuters has investigated, aided by access to deposition testimony in one or more of the lawsuits against Monsanto, which evidently was not subject to a protective order. Briefly put, the author of the IARC’s carcinogenicity study, Aaron Blair, an epidemiologist from the U.S. National Cancer Institute, covered up his own research showing that exposure to glyphosate did not lead to a higher incidence of cancer in humans. The story, as reported by Reuters, is astonishing:
Previously unreported court documents reviewed by Reuters from an ongoing U.S. legal case against Monsanto show that Blair knew the unpublished research found no evidence of a link between glyphosate and cancer. In a sworn deposition given in March this year in connection with the case, Blair also said the data would have altered IARC’s analysis.
Wednesday, June 21, 2017
Another Left-Wing Science Scandal
I always thought the war against glyphosate was probably all smoke. And I was right.