All California retailers are required to add cancer warning labels to all products containing glyphosate from July 7
In a major setback to the multinational seed and chemical company, Monsanto, the US State of California declared glyphosate, the main ingredient in its weed killer Roundup, as a toxic cancer-causing chemical, effective July 7, 2017. This decision by the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) is a triumph of environmentalists, farmers who have long fought losing battles with the giant corporations, consumer rights activists and health activists.
Declaring glyphosate as a known, cancer-causing carcinogen, the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment said it would be added to the state’s warning list under the “The Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986,” also known as Proposition 65. This law protects California drinking water from toxic, cancer-causing substances and those known to cause birth defects.
Glyphosate would be added to the state’s warning list under the “The Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986,”
As is well known, glyphosate was designated “probably carcinogenic” by the World Health Organisation’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) in 2015. The ruling led to Monsanto facing increasing litigation over glyphosate.
Monsanto called the decision “unwarranted on the basis of science and the law” and said it would continue its legal fight against the designation of its product as a carcinogen. However, Monsanto failed in its attempt to block the listing of glyphosate under Proposition 65 in the trial court or to get a stay from a state appellate court and California’s Supreme Court.
In another blow to Monsanto, the Arkansas state plant board on June 23, 2017, voted to ban the chemical, dicamba, a weed killer created for the company’s next generation of biotech (genetically modified) crops. The board’s vote followed growing complaints of dicamba drift across 19 counties in the state. The vote has been forwarded to the Governor for further action.
The board’s vote will go through a detailed process of first establishing an emergency rule, a review of the proposed rule by the Governor, followed by submission to the Executive Subcommittee of the Legislative Council for approval. The Governor is said to have followed the matter closely and had directed senior officials to visit farmers in areas of heavy dicamba damage. Most damages were reported from soybean crops.
Glyphosate is a weed killer marketed under many brand names, though Monsanto’s Roundup is the most famous. The state of California used statute CAS #107-83-6 to change the designation of the weed killer to one which has cancer as a known endpoint for people exposed to it.
Following the decision, from July 7, all California retailers are required to add cancer warning labels to all products containing glyphosate. So far, however, cancer warnings are not required on foods and grocery items sprayed with the cancer-causing herbicide.
Environmentalists warn that some farmers are using glyphosate even in non-GMO crops like barley and wheat, in order to hasten drying times before harvest, unknown to the consumer.
California retailers are required to add cancer warning labels to all products containing glyphosate.
According to Natural Health and other environmental magazines, documents released from some related California lawsuits against Monsanto revealed that the company had spent millions of dollars to discredit anti-GMO activists. Previously, it had fielded high-profile scientists and science actors like Neil deGrasse Tyson, Jon Entine, Keith Kloor and Bill Nye to claim that GMO foods and glyphosate are safe to consume in “unlimited quantities.”
Other documents revealed in the US suit included a letter from Marion Copley, an award-winning scientist with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), who said it was “essentially certain” that glyphosate caused cancer. Copley, who was herself dying of cancer, made several allegations regarding conflicts of interest.
Interestingly, in India, the Director General of the Indian Council of Medical Research, Dr Soumya Swaminathan, told the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Science and Technology, Environment and Forests, that genetically modified crops are “generally safe” for human consumption.
Dr Soumya Swaminathan, told the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Science and Technology, that genetically modified crops are “generally safe” for human consumption.
This testimony, given in May 2017, was perceived as an attempt to help the controversial GM Mustard secure permission for commercial cultivation. Swaminathan sought to distance herself from backlash by adding that the “individual GM foods” should be assessed on “case by case basis”, either by the government or an “independent credible third party”.
She claimed, “The review of available literature indicates that genetically modified crops available in the market that are intended for human consumption are generally safe and their consumption is not associated with serious health problems. However, as different GM organisms include different genes inserted in different ways, individual GM foods and their safety should be assessed on a case by case basis”.
However, in the United States, environmentalists note that even CNN has questioned the safety of glyphosate and has reported documented cases of its toxicity.
Under California’s new law, warnings will be required if glyphosate is being sprayed at levels deemed unsafe by regulators. Its major users include landscapers, golf courses, orchards, vineyards and farms. Monsanto and other glyphosate producers would be given one year from the listing date to re-label products or remove them from store shelves if further legal challenges are lost.
The California decision is expected to boost efforts by activists to ban glyphosate across the European Union where, as recently as March 2017, Roundup was judged safe for public use by the European Chemical Agency (Echa). At the same time, however, the classification that glyphosate causes serious eye damage and is toxic to aquatic life remained intact.
The ruling outraged activists and Greenpeace claimed that the Echa team responsible for the study had a conflict of interest issues as several of its members had either undertaken consultancy work for chemical firms or worked for institutes that had. Greenpeace EU’s food policy director, Franziska Achterberg, said: “Echa has gone to great lengths to sweep all evidence that glyphosate can cause cancer under the carpet. The data vastly exceeds what’s legally necessary for the EU to ban glyphosate, but Echa has looked the other way.”
Agitated over the EU ruling, over a million people signed a petition, begun in February, demanding a ban on glyphosate, along with regulatory reform and mandatory targets for reducing pesticides use.
1. The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of PGurus.