Ag Ministry officials worried the government's position on health risks of Canada's most widely used herbicide was "contradictory", following a court ruling blaming it for causing cancer
The article below tells how Canadian Agriculture Ministry officials worried that their government's position on the health risks of Canada's most widely used herbicide were "contradictory", following a landmark court ruling blaming glyphosate for causing cancer.
The article contains a quote from Randall McQuaker from the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment which doesn't quite tell the full story.
McQuaker blames the difference between the IARC's (International Agency for Research on Cancer) decision on glyphosate's carcinogenicity (that it's a probable human carcinogen) and the US EPA's (that it's unlikely to pose a cancer risk) on the type of evidence they looked at. He said that in contrast to the assessments performed by the US EPA and other government agencies, IARC's assessment relied mostly on public, peer-reviewed studies.
McQuaker added that IARC's conclusion that Roundup is probably carcinogenic was "based more on the real world, the way people actually encounter glyphosate, while the EPA looked more at laboratory conditions."
It's true that the EPA looked at more industry studies on lab rodents than IARC, because IARC has a policy of only considering published data and much industry data is kept secret and is unpublished.
However, IARC did consider the industry studies that were public and of sufficient quality.
And more crucially, as several publications have pointed out, many of the industry studies that the EPA and other regulatory agencies looked at did show carcinogenic effects in glyphosate-exposed animals.
But the EPA, as well as other regulatory agencies such as EFSA, bent over backwards to deny and dismiss these results.
Similarly, the EPA dismissed epidemiological evidence showing that exposure to glyphosate-based herbicides increases the risk of cancer.
In fact several scientists who served on the EPA's external scientific panel on glyphosate disagreed with the agency's verdict that glyphosate is non-carcinogenic. They published a meta-analysis of epidemiological studies exploring links between glyphosate herbicide exposure and Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma. They concluded that the evidence "suggests a compelling link between exposures to GBHs and increased risk for NHL".
One of the authors on the meta-analysis, Lianne Sheppard, went on the record saying that the EPA failed to follow proper scientific protocols in deciding that glyphosate was not likely to cause cancer. Sheppard said of the EPA's assessment, “It was wrong. It was pretty obvious they didn’t follow their own rules. Is there evidence that it is carcinogenic? The answer is yes.”
So it seems it’s not just a matter of IARC and the EPA using different datasets, as McQuaker contends, but more the EPA actively trying not to see evidence that was readily apparent, not just to the IARC experts, but even to the EPA’s own advisors.
A U.S. court blamed Roundup for causing cancer. Then Canada defended the herbicide, emails show
CBC News, Feb 5, 2020
* Agriculture Canada says herbicide is crucial for modern farming, despite 'stakeholder concerns' over safety
Agriculture Ministry officials worried the government's position on the health risks of Canada's most widely used herbicide were "contradictory" following a landmark court ruling blaming glyphosate for causing cancer, internal emails show.
In 2018, a groundskeeper in California won a multimillion-dollar judgment in San Francisco State Court after arguing the weed killer, frequently sold under the brand Roundup, caused his cancer.
That case inspired a slew of ongoing lawsuits in the U.S. and Canada. Plaintiffs accuse Monsanto, the corporation behind the chemical, of poisoning them. A spokesperson for Bayer, Monsanto's parent company, said the herbicide is safe when used as directed, citing more than 100 scientific studies backing that position.
U.S. litigation also triggered a series of emails among Agriculture Canada officials who outlined plans to defend the chemical, according to government records released under access to information laws.
"Recent media coverage of the U.S. court rulings linking glyphosate to cancer cases may increase stakeholder concerns with the safety of glyphosate," said one internal email in 2019.
In a message with the subject, "OVERVIEW OF THE CHEMICAL ROUNDUP, AND HOW TO COUNTER CLAIMS THAT IT CAUSES CANCER," an Agriculture Canada official worried the government's position on its health risks "may appear contradictory."
"Can we qualify … a bit to say that 'exposure to glyphosate through regular use is not a carcinogenic risk,'" one official wrote. "Or something like that."
The internal records underscore a delicate balancing act for governments trying to regulate what Agriculture Canada says is the most widely used herbicide in Canada, and crucial for food production, despite some evidence it causes cancer.
"I can see why they would think their position is contradictory," Elaine MacDonald from the environmental group Eco-Justice said in an interview after reviewing the files. "The way they have nuanced their writing, they're not saying it's not a risk.
"They are being careful in their wording — they know the science is out there on the risk of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma."
'Sustainable farming practices'
A spokesperson for Agriculture Canada said the government's position is clear: "Glyphosate has been found unlikely to pose a carcinogenic risk to humans."
"Glyphosate is used globally and in Canada for the control of weeds. It plays an important role in managing weeds under sustainable farming practices," he said in response to written questions.
First sold for agricultural use in the U.S. in 1974 under the brand Roundup, glyphosate is now a staple of modern agriculture.
The chemical helps to promote healthy soils and allows farmers to produce affordable food for Canadians because of increased yields, according to CropLife Canada, an Ottawa-based association representing herbicide producers.
The vast majority of international regulators, including Health Canada, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the European Food Safety Authority and regulators in Japan, South Korea, New Zealand and Australia have affirmed that glyphosate-based products are safe, said a spokesperson for Bayer, which produces the herbicide.
"Farmers and growers have been using glyphosate safely and effectively for more than 40 years," Bayer's spokesperson said in response to emailed questions, calling the chemical "foundational to agriculture around the world" and "an essential tool for farmers to deliver crops to markets effectively and sustainably."
However, in 2015 the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) concluded that glyphosate was probably carcinogenic to humans.
Bayer said the UN agency's position is "inconsistent with 40 years of scientific research and the conclusions of leading health regulators worldwide."
Randall McQuaker from the Toronto-based advocacy group Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment disputes Bayer's contention. IARC, he said, came to a reasonable conclusion.
Compared to studies from the U.S. EPA and other government agencies, IARC's findings relied mostly on public, peer reviewed studies, McQuaker said in an interview.
The conclusion that Roundup is probably carcinogenic was "based more on the real world, the way people actually encounter glyphosate," he said, "while the EPA looked more at laboratory conditions."
Ghostwriting the science
During recent California litigation, lawyers unearthed a series of memos showing scientists at Monsanto, the company then producing the herbicide, had ghostwritten academic studies indicating that glyphosate was safe.
These Monsanto memos did not lead to a review of glyphosate by Ottawa because they didn't introduce new scientific information, according to Agriculture Canada emails.
Bayer's spokesperson said the ghostwriting issue only applied to a secondary studies. "These allegations relate to secondary literature review articles sponsored by Monsanto, not original studies or science, and the company's sponsorship is appropriately disclosed in each article," she said.
"These allegations do not change the extensive body of science that confirms glyphosate-based herbicides can be used safely."
McQuaker and other environmentalists said Monsanto's role in financing health research into the safety of glyphosate underscores the need for more independent scientific inquiry into the chemical's effects.
Diamond & Diamond, a Toronto-based personal injury law firm behind a class action suit against Bayer on behalf of Canadians who say glyphosate made them sick, declined to comment as the litigation is currently before the courts.
The internal government emails also note how widespread use of the chemical has harmed some Canadian farm exports.
"Consumer concerns with the safety of glyphosate may have trade implications," according to a government memo from March 2019. "For example, widespread media campaigns in Italy over the safety of Canadian wheat, because of glyphosate residue on shipments … have negatively affected the reputation of Canadian durum in the Italian market.
"In the last year, Italian imports of Canadian durum wheat have dropped approximately 80 per cent."
Agriculture Canada's spokesperson said those concerns were unique to Italy, and restrictions on Canadian food exports over glyphosate concerns have not impacted any other markets or commodities.
Canada is closely monitoring the situation with Italy and is working with its European counterparts to "determine a constructive way forward," the spokesperson said, adding that "Italian consumers have enjoyed delicious pasta products made from high-quality Canadian durum wheat" for more than a century.
Eco-Justice's MacDonald said glyphosate is often used as a drying agent and applied to wheat just before harvest, potentially leading to higher residue levels of the chemical on the crop.
"If people don't like the thought of glyphosate on their wheat, that's a fair thing," she said of Italy's lost appetite for Canadian grain.