Safe Or Scary? The Shifting Reputation Of Glyphosate, AKA Roundup
Support for this podcast and the following message come from the almond board of California representing almond farmers and processors, dedicated to continuous improvement with targets across zero wastewater efficiency pest management and air quality, more at almondsustainability dot org. Round up is most widely used weed killer in the world. But now there are questions about whether it causes cancer. The makers of the chemical glide facilitate better known by its trade main trade, name roundup are now facing a series of lawsuits in three civil cases so far. Juries have ordered the company bear to pay enormous damages to cancer survivors, thousands more lawsuits have been filed for bear and for this chemical it's a stunning change in fortunes. Here's NPR's Dan, Charles John Draper, and I are sitting in the cab of a tractor on the research farm that he manages for the university of Maryland behind us. There's a sprayer. Way we go. So it's spraying it spraying for spraying life, ac-, farmers have been doing this for about four decades with a pretty clear conscience, actually, because glyphosate doesn't persist in the environment as much as say DT did it doesn't build up in groundwater, like another widely used herbicide, Atrazine and is certainly less toxic than some of the alternatives. If we were Frank remarks own to even for you to be standing next to despair, you'd have to have a respirator on, I'd have to wear a respirator, even when I'm in a tractor spraying Monsanto has started selling roundup in nineteen seventy four and for twenty years, it didn't get much attention. That was act. One of the glyphosate drama act to began in the late nineteen ninety s this spring, exciting new seed technology is planning for the first time across the corn belt Monsanto's started selling, genetically modified crops GMO's. They were modified so they could tolerate glyphosate, which meant that farmers now could spray this chemical right over there. So called roundup ready soybeans and corn. And cotton. And the crops were fine. But the weeds died, it was a farming. Revolution Monsanto quickly became the world's biggest seed company and farmers started spraying a lot more glyphosate, ten times more it all happened so fast. It's scared. A lot of people there were protests. And people started to look a lot more closely at glyphosate five years ago, the international agency for research on cancer, or Iarq, part of the World, Health Organization decided to carry out a new assessment of its risks. Here's Kate Guyton a senior scientist at Iarq at a press conference, laying out what they found strong evidence that glyphosate condemning DNA, there were studies showing that when mice eight glyphosate, they got more tumors. These two studies gave sufficient evidence of cancer in animals, and found what it called limited evidence that people exposed to glyphosate had higher rates of a particular kind of cancer non-hodgkin's lymphoma taking all this evidence together. This was classified as group to a probably carcinogenic to humans I gave Kate gotten a call last week in France. Have you ever gotten so much reaction from anything you've done before? No. That's a pretty easy answer. The internet kind of exploded. She says anti GMO group said we told you, it was dangerous Monsanto's, top executives were furious. Launched a PR campaign attacking ark and in the small town of orange Virginia. A personal injury. Lawyer named Michael Miller started rounding up clients people with non Hodgkin's lymphoma who'd used roundup. I decided these people need a DeVos courtroom. The scientific picture got more complicated though, other government agencies including the US Environmental Protection Agency, and the European Food Safety authority took a fresh look at glyphosate and they said it probably is not giving people cancer. Dave Eastman from the university of California riverside helped conduct one of these glyphosate reviews for another part of the World Health Organization for my reading, things. You know, if glyphosate causes cancer, it's pretty weak carcinogen, which means you're going to have to have pretty high doses. In order to cause. Eastman, says there are several reasons for this apparent disagreement. I, I are just looks at whether glyphosate Ken cause cancer regulators have to decide whether it actually will considering how much of it people are exposed to another reason is different agencies looked at different evidence, Eastman's committee, considered a whole bunch of studies that are not publicly available because companies like Monsanto paid for them and submitted them to regulatory agencies. I have never seen a chemical with as many animal cancer studies, glyphosate 'aceman says these company finance studies are credible. The labs have to follow a strict guidelines, but I didn't look at most of them because it only considers results released publicly and finally sometimes scientists just look at the same study and disagree about what it means. We just evaluated evidence differently. I mean, but, you know, these are honest, disagreements act. Three arrived, the trials three of them in and around San Francisco lawyers for bay. Which now owns Monsanto told jurors repeatedly that regulatory agencies don't think glyphosate causes cancer lawyers for the cancer victims, though, suggested that the regulators couldn't be trusted because Monsanto had manipulated them. Matthew Miller and his legal team showed the jurors internal Monsanto emails in one executives described phone calls with an official at the Environmental Protection Agency, who said, I don't need to see any more studies. I'm going to declare round safe, and I'm going to stop another agency for looking at it another month. And two executive talked about ghost writing papers on glyphosate safety that outside scientists could publish under their own names. And I think the jury was rightfully offended all three, juries ordered Bayer to pay huge punitive damages in the most recent case a total of two billion dollars. Alexandra hav at the university of Connecticut's law school, says one lesson from this case is attempts to get favorable decisions from regulators can back. Backfire in court, they then open themselves up for the jury to say, wait a minute. You're trying to convince the regulator not to regulate you, and now you want me to believe that the regulator is completely objective. Bayer is appealing these verdicts, and the damage is probably will be reduced. But more lawsuits are waiting. The total value of Bayer. Stock has fallen forty billion dollars since the first verdict. The next trial is set for August in Saint Louis. Dan, Charles NPR news.