Apr 2, 2015

Study claims Roundup poses cancer risk; locals say it won't reduce use of herbicide

A new report published in a scientific journal claims Roundup, the most widely used herbicide in the world, may be linked to cancer.

However, local farmers and others involved in agriculture did not put much stock in the report and say it will not alter the use of Roundup in the Big Horn Basin.

Roundup is sold in numerous places in the Big Horn Basin, including the Big Horn Coop in Powell, as warehouse clerk Adam Kanode shows on Friday. Photo by Tom Lawrence
The International Agency for Research on Cancer, a French-based agency of the World Health Organization, issued the report on March 20. It plans to release a longer version of the study later this year. The IARC claims that the insecticide malathion is also a probable human carcinogen.

The claims set off alarm bells and sparked angry responses from farmers and many in the agricultural industry. Roundup can be sprayed to eliminate weeds without harming Roundup Ready crops such as sugar beets, corn, soybeans and cotton, according to Monsanto, which invented and markets the chemical and the crop seeds.

“I do not think this report will reduce the use of Roundup in the Powell area at this time,” said Rory Karhu, a district conservationist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service.

He said 90 percent or more sugar beet and corn growers in the Big Horn Basin use Roundup Ready varieties. They apply it two to three times a season “at a high rate,” Karhu said.

The majority of alfalfa growers in the Big Horn Basin do not use the Roundup Ready variety because cutting the crop for hay two to three times per season provides acceptable weed control without the need for chemicals, he said.

Kent Wimmer, Western Sugar’s director of shareholder relations & governmental affairs, said he feels Roundup is “very, very safe” and will continue to be used by almost all beet growers in the region.

“Roundup has been around for 40 years, and it’s one of the safest products we have going,” he said, noting that it can be purchased in grocery stores.

Mike Moore, manager of the Wyoming Seed Certification Service, said he did not put a lot of credibility into the report, and felt it also made an unjustified attack on genetically modified organisms (GMOs), also known as genetically modified crops.

“Notice the regular use of the term ‘could’ in reference to Roundup and Malathion causing cancer,” Moore said. “I could state the same about any chemical and, until proven otherwise, make that claim. They then tie that to the entire GMO technology, which is in no way limited to Roundup or connected

to malathion.
“I still see no credible science in this article, nor anything more than scare tactics,” he said. “Will it have an impact? That will depend on each person/consumer.”

“I still see no credible science in this article, nor anything more than scare tactics,” said Moore, manager of the Wyoming Seed Certification Service.

Fred Hopkin, who farms in the Penrose area, said he has heard similar claims about Roundup in the past.

“If you go on the Internet, there is information, accurate or not, that would suggest all kinds of scary things regarding Roundup,” Hopkin said.

He said he wants to hear a report from the USDA or the Food and Drug Administration before he puts much stock in such claims. He said some activists and attorneys form groups with prestigious-sounding names and issue reports that make wild assertions.

Locals doubt a new report that says Roundup may be linked to cancer will have much of an impact on local use of the herbicide. Photo by Ilene Olson
“Some of what’s out there is absolutely ridiculous,” Hopkin said. “I think most of what’s out there is skewed and used to promote a particular agenda.”

State Rep. David Northrup, who farms on the Willwood, said he was aware of possible negative impacts from the use of the chemical. His family used protective gear when handing it.

“We, the ag people, were originally told that Roundup was safe to use without much protective gear,” Northrup said. “My dad turned up allergic to it almost as soon as he started using it, so yes I have been more cautious  with it in my dealings. Makes you wonder when somebody turns up with an allergic reaction.

“The use of Roundup will continue but perhaps with more caution, at least until a newer chemical can take its place,” he said.

The National Association of Wheat Growers President Brett Blankenship, a wheat farmer from Washtucna, Wash., offered a comment on the study, which he termed “troubling” and not based on new science.

“I appreciate people being concerned about food safety and where their food comes from, but years of regulatory scrutiny and scientific review show the clear facts about the safety of glyphosate use in production agriculture,” Blankenship said.

“The use of glyphosate in wheat production is minimal, but not absent,” he said.

More than 25 years of analysis from global regulatory bodies and the international scientific community, assessing updated data and peer-reviewed literature, has consistently provided the same evidence: the toxicity levels of glyphosate are low and glyphosate is not carcinogenic, Blankenship said.

“The discrepancy between 25 years of scientific analysis and one report, which was based on a limited amount of data, cannot be ignored,” he said.


“The use of Roundup will continue but perhaps with more caution, at least until a newer chemical can take its place,” predicted Northrup, a state representative and Willwood farmer.

The IARC report said farm workers who are exposed to the chemical in large amounts are most at risk. “Glyphosate has been detected in the blood and urine of agricultural workers, indicating absorption,” the report stated.

However, it said those who use it in gardens and lawns are not as likely to develop illnesses.

Powell Parks Superintendent Dal Barton, who is also the city arborist, said he has kept an eye on reports on glyphosate. The city does not use any herbicide products with glyphosate in them, he said.

A 2013 report published in the scientific journal Entropy, said residues of glyphosate has been found in food and could be linked to Parkinson’s disease, infertility and other diseases and health problems.

The Environmental Protection Agency stated in a fact sheet that glyphosate could, in cases where a person was exposed to large amounts, cause congestion of the lungs and an increased breathing rate.

Glyphosate has the potential to cause kidney damage, reproductive effects from long-term exposures at levels above the maximum contaminant level, the fact sheet stated.

Roundup, first developed in 1970 and initially marketed under that name in 1973, is widely popular among farmers. Up to 185 million pounds of glyphosate was used by American farmers in 2007, according to the EPA.

Monsanto, which developed the herbicide as well as the Roundup Ready crops that are used with it, has denounced the study as “junk science.”

Monsanto’s chief technology officer, Robb Fraley, said the scientists were driven by an agenda and resorted to the “cherry-picking” of data to make their case.



“Roundup continues to be trusted by regulators in more than 160 countries around the world,” said a Monsanto official.

Doug Rushing, Monsanto’s director of industry affairs, urged people to look into the issue themselves and to share their information with others.

“Feel free to contact your business network, friends and family and let them know that IARC’s conclusion is not supported by the overwhelming scientific evidence, and therefore IARC’s classification of glyphosate contradicts the conclusions of regulatory and scientific agencies around the globe,” Rushing said in an email. “Roundup continues to be trusted by regulators in more than 160 countries around the world.”

However, consumer groups, plant scientists and environmentalists have been saying for years they had growing concerns about the heavy application of Roundup.

Such talk has been heard in recent years, as weeds that are resistant to glyphosate have appeared. Wimmer said the rise of Roundup-resistant weeds has given the ag community reason to look at new options.

“It is a concern we are working on,” he said.

The question is, will this report make that conversation louder?

The EPA reviewed glyphosate in 1993 and stated it was noncarcinogenic. It is now conducting a standard registration review of glyphosate and is scheduled to announced this year if its use should be reduced.

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