The weed killer glyphosate may well cause cancer. That possibility led the World Health Organization’s cancer agency, the IARC, to declare glyphosate “probably carcinogenic to humans” in 2015, although several other international agencies did not agree.
Naturally, the IARC’s designation was unpopular with Monsanto, the manufacturer of the glyphosate-containing product Roundup. Bayer bought Monsanto in 2018 and has since revealed that Monsanto secretly funded research used to lobby against a European ban of glyphosate in 2017. Bayer says that Monsanto’s studies failed to disclose their funding source and thereby violated Bayer’s principles.
According to the Guardian, however, the studies’ authors claim that being funded by Monsanto did not influence the work. The journal in which the research was published says that the studies will not be retracted or amended due to the revelation about their funding source.
Roundup has been the source of substantial litigation in the U.S. Last year, courts awarded nearly $2 billion in damages to people who say they developed cancer after using Roundup, and there are many more lawsuits pending. Bayer “stands fully behind its glyphosate-based products,” the Guardian says.
The studies make glyphosate seem environmentally friendly
Two studies funded by Monsanto were published in 2010 and 2014 by ADAS, an agricultural and environmental consulting firm in the U.K. They discussed how glyphosate allows farmers to plant without ploughing, which keeps some carbon from being released into the atmosphere.
The ADAS researchers estimated there could be a 25% increase in greenhouse gas emissions if glyphosate were banned.
They also suggested there could be a 20% reduction in wheat and rapeseed harvests without the weed killer, although other researchers at the time noted that the claim seemed exaggerated.
The research concluded that “the loss of glyphosate would cause very severe impacts on UK agriculture and the environment.”
The National Farmers Union, a European lobbying group, and other industry lobbyists used these studies in its successful effort to keep the European Union from banning glyphosate in 2017. The EU license for glyphosate was extended by five years — although not the 15 years the industry had requested.
“This is an unacceptable form of opaque lobbying,” said LobbyControl, a German transparency campaign group. “Citizens, media and decision-makers should know who pays for studies on subjects of public interest. The studies also used very high figures for the benefits of glyphosate and for possible losses in case of a ban. These extreme figures were then used to spin the debate.”
According to Bayer, farmers rely on glyphosate to harvest enough food to feed the world’s growing population. However, Monsanto appears to have used ghostwritten studies to make glyphosate seem more crucial to feeding the world than it may actually be.
Meanwhile, Roundup users continue to report increased rates of cancer.