Glyphosate probably doesn’t cause cancer
October 14, 2019 2:20 PM   Subscribe

Misinformation about one of the safest herbicides ever produced has created a lucrative business for ambulance-chasing lawyers and NGOs Here’s why protecting the proper, responsible uses of glyphosate matters so much (and should matter to the very organizations that want the herbicide off the market): A total ban on all glyphosate use would be an unmitigated disaster for fish and wildlife. Glyphosate is the most effective tool, often the only tool, wildland and aquatic managers have for restoring fish and wildlife habitats destroyed by alien plants. Even when they spray glyphosate, they use minuscule amounts and frequently they merely inject it into individual plants or paint it onto cut stems.

California verdicts notwithstanding, there’s zero evidence that glyphosate causes cancer or otherwise endangers the public. But bans on all glyphosate use are proliferating locally, and a national ban seems possible if not probable. The safety of herbicides needs to be determined by scientists, not chemophobic California jurors or vulturine attorneys. The health of our native ecosystems depends on it.
posted by Homo neanderthalensis (12 comments total)

This post was deleted for the following reason: Hey, if we're going to have a thread about glyphosate, maybe let's pick a different more measured source. Slate very often has these kind of provocatively-framed articles that are meant to get passed around for their "conventional wisdom is wrong!!!" premises, which often make for less-then-great threads because everyone is drawn to react to the framing. For that reason, often Slate articles aren't the best starting points for Mefi threads, even though the topics are often interesting. -- LobsterMitten

My understanding has been that it's not glyphosate as much as the entire Roundup formulation that's problematic. I believe that was the conclusion of studies cited in a Spiegel magazine article from a few years back. I'll try and dig it up. I remember it went on at length about how most studies were testing glyphosate in isolation and ignored the "inert" (here meaning non-herbicide) components.
posted by Hairy Lobster at 2:41 PM on October 14 [2 favorites]

Maybe don't post unsourced comments on an article that primarily discusses the harm done by widespread misinformation campaigns?
posted by schmod at 2:43 PM on October 14 [6 favorites]

Found it:
Der Spiegel, Oct. 24, 2017
posted by Hairy Lobster at 2:53 PM on October 14 [5 favorites]

Glyphosate, when used correctly, is bae. We used it to kill off crepe myrtles without uprooting the stumps and disturbing the native plants growing in the vicinity. All the biologist land manager types I've spoken to say it's an excellent tool (among others) for restoring land heavily infested with invasive vegetation. I hope it's still a legal and effective tool when Comrade AOC gets the green civilian conservation corps going to attack invasive plant infestations.

Boomers: I want all my plants imported from other continents because America = freedoms.
Also Boomers: Don't you dare use chemicals. It's not invasive in my yard anyways.
posted by Drosera at 3:00 PM on October 14 [5 favorites]


As a farmer whose crops require pollinators, my greater concern recently is various studies suggesting glyphosate may be harmful to pollinators, particularly bees. I have seen a lot of conflicting information about this, and it could be that habitat restoration ultimately provides more benefit than glyphosate causes harm. (As a one time use to make it possible to re-establish diverse, native plants, it certainly would seem that way.)

It doesn't really inspire confidence in me that the article didn't address that at all.

Of course, a total ban would probably result in more widespread use of chemicals about which we don't know as much. I don't think we are ban ready.
posted by Emmy Rae at 3:09 PM on October 14 [4 favorites]



The vocabulary employed would not appear to be dispassionate, nor intended to covey a judged distance.
posted by mwhybark at 3:22 PM on October 14 [7 favorites]

This article is worded so very strongly. OK, so glyphosate probably doesn't cause cancer. Should we label it "one of the safest herbicides ever," without which wildlife would suffer "unmitigated disaster?"

What about concerns that glyphosate may cause digestive problems unrelated to cancer?
posted by Former Congressional Representative Lenny Lemming at 3:24 PM on October 14 [2 favorites]

The vocabulary employed would not appear to be dispassionate, nor intended to covey a judged distance.

I gotta say I enjoyed the "using a lawyer joke book instead of a thesaurus" effect. What kind of magical animal can chase ambulances while being both vulturine (so badass!) and subject to feeding frenzy?
posted by asperity at 3:30 PM on October 14

The article's thesis seems to turn on this:
WHO’s loosely connected appendage—the International Agency for Research on Cancer—postulates a “probable” link. Instead of studying glyphosate, it reviewed existing studies of the herbicide.
Whatever legitimate criticisms of the IARC may exist, I don't think the fact that they reviewed the literature instead of doing their own experiments is the indictment the author assumes it to be.

The author of this piece, Ted Williams, while a respected nature writer in other respects, appears to have something of a history of categorically and inaccurately denying the adverse impact of chemicals.
posted by Not A Thing at 3:31 PM on October 14 [6 favorites]

With the bulk of my readings and understanding of glycophosphate being primarily related to its adverse effects on human digestion, its danger to bees and other pollinators, birds, and insects important to the food chain, I have a hard time with the premise that if it doesnt cause cancer that makes it ok.
posted by ananci at 3:36 PM on October 14

Yes, that article sure has an angry, less than impartial tone. I understand that glyphosate and\or it's initial (and long-term residual) breakdown product AMPA (aminomethylphosphonic acid) act against the enzyme Cytochrome P450. Cytochrome p450 (Protein Data Bank) performs much of the breakdown of toxins in all life kingdoms.

Also Glyphosate-based herbicides reduce the activity and reproduction of earthworms and lead to increased soil nutrient concentrations (Nature Science Reports).

When I studied herbicides in the mid 90's we were taught about using paraquat to dry down cereals before harvest but to never use translocated herbicides (glyphosate is designed to move through the plant system which is termed translocation) as they would end up in the grain. The use of glyphosate to dry crops before harvest is now very common, as is grazing animals on land that was sprayed yesterday (I see this on a daily basis).

Here's NZ's Ian Shaw Prof of Toxicology at Canterbury, NZ "I think that the evidence that glyphosate is possibly a carcinogen in humans is robust. I favour categorising glyphosate as hazardous and reassessing its regulatory status in New Zealand."
posted by unearthed at 3:37 PM on October 14 [1 favorite]

I thought of flagging this post but I think it's better to bring out the arguments. Right now I'm way past my bedtime, so here is just one article: Germany to ban use of glyphosate weedkiller by end of 2023.
We sometimes use Roundup to deal with invasive species. We cut down the plant and then we use a paintbrush on the remains one plant at the time. I can't even manage to do this all the places needed on my tiny farm, and to be honest, if you are doing it this way, the right way, you might as well be weeding with no chemicals. Don't ever imagine industrial agriculture is that careful.
posted by mumimor at 3:39 PM on October 14

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