“The known dangers of glyphosate warrant extensive investigation before Californians are exposed to any amount …”
– Pedram Esfandiary, attorney representing cancer victims suing Monsanto corporation
Meanwhile, back in your backyard, the glyphosate saga continues. You remember glyphosate, right? It’s the active ingredient in Monsanto’s herbicide Roundup, the most widely used weed killer in the world. And, guess what? Roundup is so safe, a neighbor once informed me, you could drink the stuff. (Who informed him of this “fact” is unclear.)
Well, it turns out that glyphosate might not be so safe after all. In March 2015, the International Agency for Research on Cancer, a division of the World Health Organization, classified glyphosate as a probable carcinogen. In the IARC’s five-level classification scheme, “probable” is one notch down from the top level of “definite,” so the label is to be taken seriously.
So far, the principal fallout from the designation has been threefold. First, Monsanto and other companies that sell glyphosate-based products predictably have tried to delegitimize the classification and attack the messenger, the IARC itself, for bias. Second, based largely on the IARC classification, more than 1,000 people in the U.S. who have developed non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a type of cancer, have filed lawsuits against Monsanto for exposing them or their family members to glyphosate.
Third, on July 7, 2017, the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment classified glyphosate as a carcinogen, “known to the state to cause cancer.” Under California law, businesses must inform the public, usually by labeling, if they sell products that contain known carcinogens.
While many environmental and consumer groups consider California’s classification a huge step toward protecting the public, the labeling fight is far from over. Which products are labeled, and how they’re labeled (on the packaging itself or just with signs on store shelves) depends on the COEHHA’s assessment of the exposure risks for glyphosate – how much of the chemical your system can tolerate.
Credible scientific studies have pegged that amount at zero. For example, a 2015 study published in Environmental Health shows that liver and kidney damage afflicted lab rats that were exposed to chronic ultra-low doses (0.05 parts per billion) of glyphosate.
That level of exposure can occur not just by using glyphosate, but by eating food grown in fields where Roundup or similar products are used for weed control. For example, the Nation of Change website reports that tests by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency “have revealed levels from 3,000-6,000 parts per billion on garbanzo beans and wheat.” Eating 12 ounces of those foods daily would expose one to 15,000 times the amount of glyphosate that damaged the rats’ livers in the Environmental Health study.
So, the COEHHA could require that not only glyphosate products, but also some glyphosate-exposed foods carry the carcinogen label.
Naturally, Monsanto and other glyphosate product manufacturers are resisting any and all labeling by taking the issue to court, where, so far, they have been ruled against; by meeting with officials of the COEHHA; and by arguing their case in the court of public opinion through advertising campaigns and tactics such as feeding cherry-picked statements from legal depositions to sympathetic journalists.
Who should you believe? While the evidence against glyphosate keeps piling up, you don’t have to wait until you have definitive proof of its dangers (until you have cancer?) to take the “better safe than sorry approach” with your home weed control.
Instead, mix regular household vinegar with a little liquid dish soap (for “stickiness”) in a spray bottle and apply it to your weeds. They’ll die in a few days. Then you can further minimize your exposure to a “probable carcinogen” by encouraging your neighbor to use vinegar, not glyphosate, at his ecological house.
Philip S. Wenz is the author of the e-book Your Ecological House, available at all major electronic book distributors.