As the federal government renews tests to determine how much glyphosate is in America’s foods, Connecticut environmental groups, organic farmers and a U.S. senator say it’s time to limit the use of, or ban, the popular herbicide.
Glyphosate, the active ingredient in the world’s top-selling weed killer, Roundup, is a suspected carcinogen that’s used in agriculture, on golf courses, ballfields and other public venues, and for lawn care, experts said. It can be found in more than 750 products sold in the U.S., reports the National Pesticide Information Center.
Health concerns have been raised about Roundup for decades, concerns consistently disputed by its manufacturer, Monsanto. Earlier this year, a group of environmental health scientists called for the federal government to reassess whether glyphosate is a cancer risk.
The New York- and Connecticut-based Citizens Campaign for the Environment supports glyphosate “restrictions or prohibitions,” said Connecticut program director Louis Burch. Glyphosate poses a risk to young children “due to their rapidly growing bodies and developing immune systems,” he said. It also hurts aquatic life and can harm bees and other pollinators, he said.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency limits glyphosate residue content in food and in the amount workers can be exposed to. Calling the limits inadequate, critics say the U.S. Food and Drug Administration—which is mandated to enforce those limits on many foods—has failed to do its job.
The Government Accountability Office reported in 2014 that the FDA doesn’t test “for several commonly used pesticides,” including glyphosate, “the most used agricultural pesticide.”
FDA spokeswoman Megan McSeveney said that because of the cost of the tests, the agency “has not routinely” looked for glyphosate. In 2016, the development of a “streamlined” method allowed the FDA to start testing for residues in soybeans, corn, milk and eggs. The analyses were put on hold for a few months when testing was transferred to new laboratories but resumed this year, McSeveney said.
Preliminary results of the new tests, which were presented at a conference last year, showed no violations for glyphosate residues, but the testing continues. All results “must go through the FDA’s quality-control process to be verified,” McSeveney said.
Monsanto says glyphosate has been used by farmers, homeowners and others for more than 40 years and, if used properly, “does not present an unreasonable risk of adverse effects to humans, wildlife or the environment.”
In July, however, California added glyphosate to its list of chemicals known to cause cancer. The move follows a 2015 determination by the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer that glyphosate was “probably carcinogenic to humans.”
In Connecticut, a bill to ban the use of herbicides on highway medians and railroad rights of way won environment committee approval, but was not voted on by the end of the legislative session.
Glyphosate is a “dreadful substance” that has hurt consumers, applicators, wildlife and the environment, said Lori Brown, executive director of the Connecticut League of Conservation Voters. She said she supports action at every level of government to do “whatever it takes to get it out of the environment.”
U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal said he’s “concerned with the growing body of evidence linking glyphosate to serious health problems, including cancer.
“I would support a limitation or ban on the use of glyphosate and encourage further investigation into its potentially devastating effects,” he said.
The Northeast Organic Farming Association of Connecticut, referring to glyphosate as a “chemical poison,” says more than 100 million pounds are applied annually on U.S. food crops.
But the Connecticut Environmental Council, which represents golf course superintendents, pest control companies and groundskeepers, said if instructions on the product’s label are followed, it has no concerns about the safety of glyphosate.
“I consider it a valuable tool in controlling weeds such as poison ivy and grass along fence lines,” said Michael Wallace, the group’s president.
North Haven-based Environment and Human Health, Inc.,—a group of doctors and public health professionals—said glyphosate shouldn’t be sold to everyone who walks into a store to buy it.
“The public has been using this product for years and been told it was safe, but scientists are now finding out it is dangerous to human health,” said Nancy Alderman, the group’s president.
“Industry is still claiming, as they always have, that it is perfectly safe, and there is a whole population of people unaware of the product’s health hazards. Roundup should become a restricted pesticide that would require a pesticide permit to use it,” Alderman said.
Last year, scientists representing the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and WHO reported that “there is some evidence of a positive association between glyphosate exposure and risk of non-Hodgkin lymphoma,” but “the only large cohort study of high quality found no evidence of an association at any exposure level.” They also said “glyphosate is unlikely to pose a carcinogenic risk to humans from exposure through the diet.”
Monsanto, which says WHO’s cancer research agency “overlooked decades of thorough and science-based analysis by regulatory agencies around the world,” has also been hit with hundreds of lawsuits by individuals who say the multinational corporation failed to warn that exposure to Roundup could cause non-Hodgkin lymphoma, a cancer that starts in white blood cells.
Monsanto spokeswoman Charla Lord said, “No other pesticide has been more extensively tested than glyphosate.” Regulatory authorities in the U.S. and other countries “have publicly reaffirmed that glyphosate does not cause cancer,” she said, and “the “overwhelming conclusion of experts worldwide, including the Environmental Protection Agency, has been that glyphosate can be used safely according to label instructions.”
But Burch, of the Citizens Campaign for the Environment, said the group will continue to push for limits on the use of chemical pesticides and herbicides. “Our members continue to be concerned about [their] unintended effects.”
This story was reported under a partnership with the Connecticut Health I-Team (c-hit.org).