Is a US Court Decision, Linking Weedkiller and Cancer, Fake News? – Hope 103.2

Is a US Court Decision, Linking Weedkiller and Cancer, Fake News?

Weedkiller glyphosate, better know by the trade name Roundup, has been in use globally for about 40 years. What will be the impact of a multi-million dollar judgement in favour of a man claiming the chemical caused his cancer. Is the chemical dangerous or is fake news at work? Professor Jim Pratley told Open House the chemical is safe when used correctly and that banning glyphosate would severely impact world food supply.

By Anne RinaudoTuesday 4 Sep 2018Open House InterviewsLifestyleReading Time: 7 minutes

Listen: Jim Pratley in conversation with Stephen O’Doherty.

Weedkiller glyphosate, better know as Roundup™, has been in use globally for about 40 years. Yet, a US court has just made a multi-million dollar judgement in favour of a man claiming the chemical caused his cancer. Is it really dangerous or is fake news at work?

Professor Jim Pratley told Open House the chemical is safe when used correctly and that banning glyphosate would severely impact world food supply.

Australian impact

Charles Sturt University (CSU) Emeritus Professor Jim Pratley says recent court cases regarding the use of the chemical glyphosate may have significant impacts for Australian farmers and global food security.

Manufacturer Monsanto has been ordered by a Californian Court to pay more than $280 million after a jury found Roundup™ contributed to a man’s cancer, while a Brazilian judge has suspended the use of glyphosate.

Activism against Monsanto

Professor Pratley, who is a member of the Graham Centre for Agricultural Innovation, says the context of the decisions needs to be understood. He says there is a huge potential impact for Australian agriculture and global food production. He believes the actions and concerns about glyphosate are driven not by scientific evidence but by activism targeting Monsanto, the manufacturer of the chemical.

“Glyphosate is the most widely used herbicide globally and is considered to be amongst the safest. It also seems to be the most researched and reviewed, but why is that? The answer appears to be that it is a product of the multi-national Monsanto.” Professor Pratley says in an article about the recent court decisions.

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“Monsanto has also been a leader in plant Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) development that also involves glyphosate, more commonly known as Roundup™. The so-called activists have attacked Monsanto though its products, creating a fear campaign against GMOs and now against glyphosate.”

Golden Rice could have spared millions from blindness

Is there any evidence?

Professor Pratley says that when activism and big business are at odds it is the poorest who lose. He cites the case of genetically modified ‘golden rice’ that can prevent Vitamin A deficiency blindness and as he told Open House  “Could have saved literally millions of children from blindness if it had been released 18 years ago.” Golden rice has still not been released.

“The problem is that if a fear is expressed loudly and often, some of the community will accept the argument regardless of whether there is evidence or not.” says Professor Pratley. In his article Professor Pratley outlines how this applies to glyphosate.

Around since the 1970’s

“Glyphosate has been used commercially since 1974 in the United States and since around 1978 in Australia – it is used widely in agriculture and horticulture as well as by a high proportion of households. If it were to be carcinogenic we would expect that such cancers would be in epidemic proportions these days, given its widespread use.

“In fact there have been many studies and reviews and they come up negative to any link – except one, where in 2015, the International Agency for Research on Cancer classified the chemical as “probably carcinogenic to humans” (1).

Court verdict beyond belief – the evidence is not there

Discredited finding

“The review that led to this outcome has regularly been discredited particularly because it failed to take into account a long-term Agricultural Health Study (2) covering the period 1993-2005 which could find no association between glyphosate use and cancer. This study is important because of its size – around 45,000 agricultural users of glyphosate.” says the article.

Evidence is not there

“The gardener at the centre of the recent US court trial, where a claim was made that constant use of glyphosate resulted in cancer, received a payout of $39 million for his losses and $250 million to punish Monsanto. How such a verdict could be arrived at is beyond belief as courts are supposed to rely on evidence; and the evidence is not there.

No protective clothing

“Further, it is not Monsanto’s fault if the gardener did not use protective clothing – that is the responsibility of the employer to ensure duty of care. What we do not know is the financial supporter of the litigation, since it is unrealistic that the gardener was operating on his own behalf? Clearly lawyers also see this area as a cash cow regardless of the validity of the argument – where is the integrity?” asks Professor Pratley in the article.

Court decisions will be appealed

“Also recent was the decision of the court in Brazil to ban the use of glyphosate until a study proved it to be safe. The rationale for this decision is unclear.  Brazil is the second largest producer of Genetically Modified (GM) crops globally with almost 50 million hectares involving soybeans (96.5 percent GM), maize (88.4 percent GM) and cotton (78.3 percent GM) with the Roundup Ready™ capability represented in almost all GM grown. Thus it puts at risk the whole of the country’s agriculture.” Professor Pratley says in his article.

“In both the above cases, there will be appeals against these decisions and there is a high expectancy that the truth will prevail and the decisions will be overturned. It is to be hoped that the mischief makers carry the cost but some dirt will stick.

The tragedy of golden rice

White rice and golden rice. Photo credit

“Activists have been instrumental in preventing production of golden rice, a GM product that would help address blindness in children. This product has been available since 2000 but is not yet in the field. At a rate of around 500,000 cases of blindness in children through Vitamin A deficiency each year, the activists are responsible for millions of children going blind during a period where the solution was potentially available.” he says in the article.

Glyphosate was a saviour for Australian soil erosion

Alternative chemicals are less safe

“What it does do however, is make us reflect on the consequences should these decisions remain in place and maybe extend to other jurisdictions like Australia. Glyphosate is a fundamental part of our conservation agriculture which is practised by probably 90 per cent of farmers. It was the saviour chemical in mitigating the soil erosion that occurred on farms resulting from cultivation.

The alternative options to glyphosate are certainly much less safe if we are to maintain our no-till farming; we do not want to return to the tillage activities of the past.” Professor Pratley warns in the article.

Economic and environmental losses

A study by economic experts in this field, Brookes (PG Economics UK) and colleagues indicate that there would inter alia be: an annual loss of around $7 billion from the farm income gains achieved by GM production; significant loss of production of soybeans, corn and canola production; a negative environmental impact of an increase of 8.3 million kilograms active ingredient of extra herbicide used; and the associated additional carbon emissions from extra fuel usage (3).

We need to feed nine billion people

It would also necessitate the need for additional land area of over 700,000 hectares at the expense of global forests. Other studies by Brookes have shown that around half the economic benefit of the GM technology goes to developing countries (4), so the impact will be very much greater for those nations.

The world is moving towards nine billion people in a few decades. We depend on biotechnology and glyphosate to be able to feed them. Fake news serves us poorly. As Academy of Science Fellow Dr TJ Higgins (5) once said “red herrings are in plentiful supply but they will not feed 9 or 10 billion people”.  GM and glyphosate, however, just might.

Click here for the full article and references 

121 Nobel laureates blast GMO opponents

In 2016 Sir Rich Roberts, FRS, organized an open letter from fellow Nobel Laureates to Greenpeace, the UN and the Governments of the World, decrying their unscientific treatment of GMO-crops.

Two years later, in June 2018, Dr Roberts talked about his views at the 68th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting with Young Scientists, Germany.

Hard to comprehend how the anti-GMO movement can sleep at night

Sir Rich: “At the meeting I described the Nobel Laureates campaign in favor of GMOs. Examples of the benefits of the new GM technology for citizens of the developing world include Golden Rice and halting both Banana Wilt and the Fall Army Worm.

Benefits of fortified food

For biofortification alone GMO technology can deliver high folate rice (mothers’ dietary deficiency causes birth defects), high zinc and high iron rice (dietary deficiency impedes mental development). Similarly, GMO Golden Rice provides a source of vitamin A. Vitamin A deficiency is an immune deficiency syndrome, so children die of common infections.

Golden Rice accepted as safe by many governments

It is also the main cause of irreversible childhood blindness. Golden Rice has been accepted as safe for consumption by the Governments of Australia, Canada, New Zealand and USA, and registrations have been applied for in Philippines and Bangladesh.

Activists are rejecting science

Yet, significantly due to rejection of science by activists, Golden Rice is not yet available to farmers and their communities as an additional intervention for vitamin A deficiency. And neither high folate rice, nor high iron rice, nor high zinc rice, nor Golden Rice could be developed without the use of GMO-technology. Millions of people can benefit from the use of GMO-technology in plant breeding, it is hard to comprehend how the anti-GMO movement can sleep at night.”

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