On September 5th, the California Environmental Protection Agency announced it would label the herbicide glyphosate as a chemical known to cause cancer.
Glyphosate is the main ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup, a weedkiller or herbicide that most of us, as gardeners, are familiar with. What you may not know is that this particular herbicide is the most widely used in the world, with more than 250 millions pounds of used annually in the US. What you also may not know is that it’s used with genetically modified crops, such as soy and corn, to kill any weeds. In fact, residues are now on 90 percent of soybean crops.
This all came about because a branch of the World Health Organization found in March that the chemical is probably carcinogenic to humans. This resulted in several countries banning or severely restricting the use of glyphosate, including the Netherlands, Bermuda, and Sri Lanka, with France banning it for use in gardens in June.
There was also a recent study that suggested long-term exposure to tiny amounts of the chemical (thousands of times lower than what’s allowed in drinking water in the US) could lead to liver and kidney problems.
In California, there’s a ruling called Proposition 65, which voters approved in 1986. It requires the state to publish a list of chemicals known to cause cancer, birth defects, or other reproductive harms. The state regularly updates the list, which now includes hundreds of chemicals. When determining whether a chemical should be placed on the list, the committees base their decisions on the most current scientific information available.
On September 22nd, Enrique Rubio, a former California field worker, filed a lawsuit against Monsanto in Central California Federal Court, claiming that his 1995 bone cancer diagnosis at the age of 38 was caused by years of spraying Roundup on cucumber, onion and other vegetable crops. The same day, a similar lawsuit was filed in federal court in New York by 64-year-old Judi Fitzgerald, who was diagnosed with leukemia in 2012. She claims her exposure to Roundup at the horticultural products company she worked for caused her illness. Both have accused the company of falsifying the safety of the product.
While the ruling doesn’t ban the sale of Roundup, environmental activists are hopeful that labeling it as a carcinogen will be the first step to make the federal EPA take notice and revise its classification of Roundup as a “safe” chemical. Monsanto continues to maintain that the product is safe.