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VoYS attends glyphosate briefing

VoYS members went along to the Soil Association's glyphosate briefing event to put the IARC's carcinogenic classification into context.

In March 2015 the WHO's International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classified one of the world's most used herbicides, glyphosate, as "probably carcinogenic to humans". The Soil Association held a breakfast and briefing event which we attended to put this classification into context and to see what they had to say.

We took along flyers and a list of other IARC carcinogens to hand out to other attendees in hope of sparking some interesting discussions.

Professor Christopher Portier, from the IARC, explained that the classification was based on a number of animal studies. He said chemicals or lifestyle factors can be classed as carcinogens when two studies show a significant result, even when many other studies do not show a link. Professor Portier said that only three studies involving humans showed statistically significant results and that 'confounding factors or chance' could explain those. He also mentioned that glyphosate is not a bioaccumulative, meaning that it is not absorbed by the body and is simply excreted.

Dr Robin Mesnage, from Kings College London, argued in his presentation why the conclusions of the IARC are different from those of national regulatory bodies. Dr Mesnage's reason was that regulatory bodies only assess studies that use pure glyphosate, whereas the IARC looks at studies using commercial formulations which contain ‘toxic’ adjuvants, which may contribute to their carcinogenicity. This is despite the findings of the Agricultural Health Study that surveyed over 57, 000 US farmers applying commercial formulations and found no association with glyphosate products and cancer.

You can take a look at the Soil Association's 'Glyphosate in our bread - facts and figures' information sheet. You can also download all the presentation slides here.


Peter Melchett, Policy Director at the Soil Association in discussion with Alex Waugh, director general of the National Association of British and Irish Millers.


Dr Mark Lorch, senior lecturer in biological chemistry at the University of Hull: "The IARC classifications don't reflect real world risk and shouldn't be used to decide what is safe to eat, or what is safe to use on our crops. Carcinogens are in a host of natural and healthy foods. Formaldehyde for example, which is on the IARC list as a human carcinogen, can be found in pears. Context and quantity is important. Almost everything is harmful in large amounts or harmless in low concentrations, be that formaldehyde in pears or glyphosate."

Victoria Murphy, Programme Manager, Sense About Science:  "Glyphosate is in the same IARC group as night shifts, and chemicals in grapefruit juice and tea bags. These classifications are of limited value in deciding what to research or what is safe. The report states that glyphosate was detected in less than 20% of bread, in very low quantities, on average 0.2mg per kilogram.To put this in context, an adult weighing 70kg would have to eat 105 kilos of that particular bread a day to reach the ADI (Acceptable Daily Intake)."