Let’s fact it — glyphosate is getting no love these days, particularly in the popular press. Almost every day now, it seems, there is another online or print article touting the recent high-profile troubles for the popular herbicide and its primary manufacturer, Bayer. In fact, one such article began: “The world is awash in glyphosate.”
Actually, there is some truth to this statement. According to many recent studies on herbicides, growers and consumers worldwide have applied more than 9.4 million tons of glyphosate since its introduction in 1974. This makes glyphosate the most popular herbicide in history. In turn, it’s also one of the most studied and scrutinized herbicides.
Now, for almost this same length of time, glyphosate has had many, many enemies. This inevitably happens when something remains at No. 1 for too long (consider, for instance, how many haters of the New York Yankees or New England Patriots are out there). They have consistently pointed to glyphosate and claimed all manner of evils. Some of the more numerous of these include glyphosate “kills bees” (despite the fact it’s a herbicide and not an insecticide) and it “pollutes waterways and kills fish” (see the previous note). Between 1974 and mid-2015, this “inferred” connection between glyphosate use and “all the evils it caused” largely remained on the fringes.
Then, in late 2015, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), a part of the World Health Organization, released a report that used only glyphosate studies that were in the public domain (and not many of those used by global regulatory agencies) and declared glyphosate “probably carcinogenic to humans.” Quite rapidly, glyphosate opponents latched onto this statement as proof of their arguments, virtually ignoring the word “probably” along the way.
Since then, lawsuits by the thousands have been filed against glyphosate, claiming its use caused cancers in the plaintiffs. A few of these have already been decided against Bayer, and the company has been ordered to pay damages of more than $100 million.
Naturally, many glyphosate opponents are now proclaiming this the “beginning of the end for glyphosate,” boasting that the herbicide will be banned from use. In some countries, such as Vietnam, regulators have moved to remove the herbicide from circulation.
But glyphosate won’t be disappearing completely any time soon. Despite the IARC study, most regulatory agencies around the world still believe in glyphosate’s safety. “There’s no evidence that glyphosate causes cancer,” Alexandra Dunn, an Assistant Administrator for the EPA’s Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention, said in a release. “[IARC] is the only agency globally that has connected glyphosate to cancer.”
Expect the debate to continue …