Sense about Science ? equipping people to make sense of science and evidence
Glyphosate: What's the lowdown?
Glyphosate is one of the most common herbicides worldwide and has been used in agriculture and gardening since the 1970s. It's also an ingredient in the weed killing product Roundup. It works by inhibiting an enzyme only found in plants.
In March 2015 glyphosate was categorised as “probably carcinogenic to humans” by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC).
VoYS members went along to the Soil Association's glyphosate briefing on 15th July event to put the IARC's carcinogenic classification into context. We took along flyers to hand out to other attendees in hope of sparking some interesting discussions.
What is the IARC?
The IARC is an agency of the World Health Organization (WHO) which aims to identify causes of cancer. It brings together groups of scientists to review scientific evidence in order to recognise chemicals, physical and biological agents, and lifestyle factors that can cause cancer in humans.
The IARC do not carry out a risk assessment but rather assess the potential of an agent to be carcinogenic. It does not take into consideration how much of or how commonly a risk it poses in the real world.
We've translated the IARC's carcinogen list into something you can read here. Warning: You might be shocked...
Scientists have criticised the IARC glyphosate assessment for numerous reasons:
- The selection of literature for reviewing was unbalanced and data has been ‘cherry picked’
- No new scientific evidence was included in this evaluation
- This classification is based mostly on animal studies and the report states that there is limited evidence of carcinogenicity in humans
- It contradicts the conclusions of several national regulatory agencies around the world that have reviewed the large body of glyphosate research and deemed it a safe herbicide
…The dose makes the poison
It's important to remember that any chemical, whether natural or synthetic can hurt us if we consume too much of it. The dose is the crucial factor.
Many thanks to VoYS members Mabon Elis and Matt Audley for their inputs.
You can read further discussion about this issue in a Genetic Literacy Project article.