Cheers! En­joy a Tall Glass of Roundup

Regulation ▶ The key chem­i­cal in Mon­santo’s weed­killer gets new scru­tiny ▶ “The list­ing of glyphosate would be flawed and base­less” Europe’s Got Glyphosate­s

Bloomberg Businessweek (North America) - - Politics/policy -

It’s been a tough year for glyphosate, the world’s most pop­u­lar weed­killer. A year ago, the In­ter­na­tional Agency for Re­search on Can­cer (IARC), an arm of the World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion, de­clared that glyphosate—the key in­gre­di­ent in Mon­santo’s Roundup prod­ucts—was prob­a­bly car­cino­genic to hu­mans. In the months since, mul­ti­ple law­suits have been filed blam­ing the chem­i­cal for caus­ing can­cer and birth de­fects. In Fe­bru­ary, test­ing found traces of glyphosate in Ger­man beer and or­ganic panty lin­ers sold ld in France. Other tests have found chem­i­cal residue in Bri­tish bread, d, as well as in the urine of peo­ple across Europe. In early March, the Euro­pean Union put off a vote to re­new a 15-year li­cense foror glyphosate af­ter sev­eral mem­ber states balked.

Mon­santo fa­mously ad­ver­tised Roundup, which was in­tro­duced in 1974, as safer than ta­ble salt. In 1996 the com­pany stopped mak­ing the ta­ble salt claim af­ter com­plaints from New York state. Glyphosate’s use has grown ex­po­nen­tially since then, and the new can­cer find­ing re­vived con­cerns about its po­ten­tial health ef­fects. In Septem­ber state of­fi­cials in Cal­i­for­nia pro­posed adding the her­bi­cide to a list of known car­cino­gens.

The FDA said in Fe­bru­ary that it would be­gin test­ing for glyphosate residue in food in the U.S. The re­sults aren’t yet avail­able. The En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency has been re­view­ing its use since 2009. The agency, which in 1985 tem­po­rar­ily clas­si­fied glyphosate as “pos­si­bly car­cino­genic,” was sup­posed to wrap up some­time last year; it now says a draft of its de­ci­sion should be avail­able for pub­lic com­ment some­time this year.

The her­bi­cide in­dus­try has mounted an ag­gres­sive cam­paign to dis­credit the can­cer find­ing and to con­vince reg­u­la­tors—and the pub­lic—that the her­bi­cide should re­main in use. Mon­santo and other glyphosate man­u­fac­tur­ers have cast the reg­u­la­tory scru­tiny as rou­tine. “No reg­u­la­tory au­thor­ity con­sid­ers glyphosate to be a car­cino­gen, but the clas­si­fi­ca­tion by the IARC work­ing group gen­er­ated un­war­ranted con­fu­sion and con­cern,” Mon­santo says. “We con­tinue to work with farm­ers, sci­en­tists, and oth­ers to put the IARC clas­si­fi­ca­tion in con­text and re­in­force glyphosate’s 40-year his­tory of safe use.” The in­dus­try has por­trayed the cri­tiques as bi­ased, even ab­surd. “A per­son would need to drink 3,000 beers in one day for lev­els of gl glyphosate near the Euro­pean regul ula­tory au­thor­ity’s max­i­mum daily lim limit,” said one Mon­santo re­lease.

Last year, Mon­santo urged EPA offi of­fi­cials to pub­licly de­nounce the IA IARC find­ing, ac­cord­ing to e-mails ob­tained by U.S. Right to Know, a con­sumer food ad­vo­cacy group, through a Free­dom of In­for­ma­tion Act re­quest. In a March 24, 2015, e-mail, Daniel Jenk­ins, a reg­u­la­tory li­ai­son be­tween Mon­santo and fed­eral agen­cies, urged EPA of­fi­cials to bor­row lan­guage from Ger­man reg­u­la­tors, who bashed the IARC’S glyphosate as­sess­ment as “sci­en­tif­i­cally hard to fol­low and ap­par­ently based on very few stud­ies.” The EPA hasn’t yet of­fi­cially ad­dressed the find­ing.

Mon­santo is also pur­su­ing le­gal ac­tion against the Cal­i­for­nia Of­fice of En­vi­ron­men­tal Health Haz­ard As­sess­ment to pre­vent the agency from adding glyphosate to its list of can­cer-caus­ing chem­i­cals. “The list­ing of glyphosate would be flawed and base­less be­cause glyphosate does not cause can­cer,” the com­pany said in a pub­lic state­ment.

Glyphosate works by block­ing the pro­duc­tion of cer­tain amino acids that a plant needs to grow, and it’s non­s­e­lec­tive, mean­ing it kills most plants. It be­gan to dom­i­nate the her­bi­cide mar­ket only af­ter Mon­santo ge­net­i­cally en­gi­neered crops to sur­vive it, mar­ket­ing them un­der its Roundup Ready brand. Global sales of glyphosate were about $7.8 bil­lion in 2014, 30 per­cent of the her­bi­cide mar­ket, ac­cord­ing to Crop­no­sis, a mar­ket-re­search firm.

Mon­santo’s dom­i­nance of the glyphosate mar­ket has de­clined since the chem­i­cal went off pa­tent in 2000. Some weeds have be­come re­sis­tant to glyphosate, trig­ger­ing the need for other weed­killers. None­the­less, Roundup re­mains the pri­mary mon­ey­maker for Mon­santo’s agri­cul­tural pro­duc­tiv­ity seg­ment, which brought in 32 per­cent of its rev­enue in fis­cal 2015.

A re­jec­tion of glyphosate by ei­ther the U.S. or Europe would have “mas­sive” ram­i­fi­ca­tions on farm­ing and food pro­duc­tion, says Ja­son Miner, an an­a­lyst for Bloomberg In­tel­li­gence. “You could quickly take us two decades back in terms of farm yields,” he says. “The world doesn’t have ca­pac­ity to pro­duce all the al­ter­na­tives.” �An­drew Martin and Ly­dia Mul­vany

Per­cent­age of sam­ples con­tain­ing glyphosate residue. De­tected lev­els fell within le­gal lim­its.

Oats 44%

Wheat 16%

7%Wine Rye5

The Mu­nich En­vi­ron­men­tal In­sti­tute found glyphosate in all 14 best-sell­ing Ger­man beers

Cau­li­flower 1% The bot­tom line The Euro­pean Union tabled a de­ci­sion on re­new­ing glyphosate sales amid con­cerns the weed­killer may cause can­cer.

Edited by Al­li­son Hoff­man

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