By now you've likely heard or read about the recent debunking by Reuters of an international cancer agency's "finding" that glyphosate may have a link to one particular type of cancer, but there's more intrigue underlying the headlines.
In Part One of the American Council on Science & Health's examination this issue, they review the findings of the 2015 meeting of the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC, the same agency that in 2015 claimed sausage was as carcinogenic as cigarettes), during which a panel of 17 cancer experts considered evidence that would determine what class of carcinogens that glyphosate (the active ingredient in Monsanto's herbicide RoundUp) belonged in.
What was especially strange, according to the ACSH review, was that the panel chair - Aaron Blair, an epidemiologist for the National Cancer Institute - was the head of a group which had conducted years of extensive research that gave glyphosate a good safety report card (not expected to be carcinogenic in humans). His review included recent results from the Agricultural Health Study - a prospective study that began in 1993 of epidemiological associations of cancer and other health outcomes of licensed pesticide applicators and their spouses from Iowa and North Carolina - yet, the panel never heard anything about Blair's work. He never said a word, allegedly because it had not yet been published. (Even the EPA commissions studies and considers their findings when regulating pesticides, many of which are not published in peer reviewed journals.) Blair had reportedly looked at more recent data from the AHS and previously published data in 2005 that found glyphosate exposure was not associated with cancer incidence overall or with most of the cancer subtypes.
While the timing of the publication of a paper is normally not a big deal, this time it was. This is because if Blair's findings had been considered by the IARC panel, the results would have been unquestionably different, ACSH says. But, in the absence of these findings, the panel decided that glyphosate would be placed in the group 2A category—a "probable human carcinogen," second only to Group 1 chemicals (carcinogenic to humans). Entwined in this mystery was Monsanto, which was extremely interested in the IARC findings because the company was facing a lawsuit in California by 184 people who claimed that glyphosate gave them cancer. If you're thinking that this strange affair is sounding like a John Grisham novel, you are not alone. Read more about this intrigue in Part Two of ASCH's coverage of the issue.
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