The scientific world was astonished (to put it mildly) when the IARC (International Agency for Research on Cancer), a sub-unit of the WHO declared that Roundup (glyphosate) probably causes cancer, putting an herbicide that has been in use for over 40 years into their Group 2A. Their report was published initially as a summary in The Lancet, and then as a complete IARC monograph.
Glyphosate has been available for over 40 years, and is the world’s most widely-used herbicide. Its toxicity has been compared to aspirin. Hundreds, if not thousands of studies have found it to be relatively harmless, and none have suggested it was carcinogenic. It works on plants by disrupting the Shikimate pathway plants use to synthesize several essential amino acids (tyrsosine, phenylalanine and tryptophan). Humans and animals in general do not have such a pathway and must get these amino acid from their food.
As Reuters has explained, the IARC was formerly a stand-alone French agency and ended up with a much reduced budget as a “semi-autonomous part of WHO.” The problem is, their finding that glyphosate is carcinogenic is simply wrong. As David Zaruk notes, they ignored decades of government studies, choosing to focus only on eight cherry-picked papers, and spent only a week on the entire issue.
And, in one case, the author of one of those eight papers, Keith Soloman, a respected toxicologist, pointed out that the IARC had gotten his paper “totally wrong.”
The German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) disputed these findings. There are dozens of studies and reviews showing no finding of genotoxicity or carcinogenicity. And as James Gurney reported, the papers they cherry-picked were full of scientific weasel words like “induced a positive trend,” and the statistical test “often gives incorrect results.”
And, responding to the IARC report, the European Food Safety Association (EFSA) reviewed studies including those from the BfR and concluded:
“…glyphosate is unlikely to pose a carcinogenic hazard to humans and the evidence does not support classification with regard to its carcinogenic potential according to Regulation.”
And EFSA Executive Director Bernhard Url accused the IARC of “Facebook Science,” saying that they had “left the domain of science…entering into the domain of lobbying and campaigning.”
Finally, if you actually read the IARC report, as opposed to their brief opinion piece in The Lancet, you will find that among the papers it references is the disgraced and withdrawn lumpy rat paper by Giles-Eric Seralini. (In order to preserve a record of this travesty of a paper, it was reprinted in a new third-rate journal, but without being refereed further.) This is a direct violation of the “Seralini rule,” first proposed in Skeptico, that
If you favorably cite the 2012 Séralini rats fed on Roundup ready maize study, you just lost the argument.
In fact, the IARC report cites seven separate papers by the anti-GMO activist Seralini. Seralini’s papers suffer from being not only incomprehensible and inconsistent as Henry Miller has noted, (also in this article) but none of them has ever been replicated.
So what’s going on here? How could the IARC have come to such incredible wrong conclusions? Well, as you might expect, someone there seems to have had an agenda. In this case, it was Christopher Portier, an American anti-pesticide activist formerly employed by the Environmental Defense Fund, whose views on pesticides are well known and not science based. This is explained in detail in David Zaruk’s Risk-Monger blog. According to the IARC, Portier was an “invited specialist,” and “receives a part –time salary from the Environmental Defense Fund.” Portier has a Ph.D. in biostatistics and is not a toxicologist. Even though he was working for the anti-pesticide EDF, he was the only external representative on the IARC glyphosate team.
To continue the story of EFSA’s accusation of “lobbying,” Portier went to the German Bundestag, the EFSA, and NGO’s like the Soil Association expressing his view that glyphosate causes cancer (learn how was mesothelioma explained and legally managed), stronger statement than even the IARC’s flawed report made. Clearly science has not been well served by the IARC report, which so far has not actually been accepted by the WHO itself. If the IARC is no longer producing credible scientific reports, one can raise the question as to whether they have any legitimate purpose.