Does glyphosate “probably” cause cancer? I put the question to Dr. Van Wychen. His response: “I understand people’s frustrations with Monsanto, and I get pissed off at Monsanto myself. Glyphosate is still a good, super-safe herbicide in areas where we don’t have resistance [virtually all water and wildland, for example]. IARC’s review was such a crooked scam! I’ve never seen anything like it. Every other regulatory agency in the world has concluded time and time again that glyphosate does not cause cancer.”
Among these agencies is the World Health Organization, which disagrees with its IARC branch.
“IARC cherry-picked a couple studies and on top of that fudged the results of those studies,” continued Van Wychen. “They did these odds-ratio calculations— a correlation, not even a mechanistic cause—of how glyphosate might cause cancer. Now there are people on the conservation side who are afraid to use glyphosate.”
According to Reuters, “IARC edited findings from a draft of its review of the weedkiller glyphosate that were at odds with its final conclusion.”
The same week IARC published its opinion, the person leading the review, Dr. Christopher Portier, signed on for $450 per hour as a litigation consultant for counsel suing Monsanto on behalf of alleged glyphosate cancer victims.
IARC’s opinion convinced California to require that all glyphosate products carry a cancer warning. But on February 26, 2018, a federal judge struck down the requirement, ruling it “inherently misleading . . . when apparently all other regulatory and governmental bodies have found the opposite.”
Still, in August 2018 and March 2019, lawyers used IARC’s opinion and Portier’s testimony to convince two California juries that plaintiffs had contracted non-Hodgkin lymphoma from glyphosate. Monsanto was ordered to pay $78 million to Dewayne Johnson, then $80 million to Edwin Hardeman—verdicts that convinced Los Angeles County to ban glyphosate.
So began the current lawyer feeding frenzy, which has resulted in almost 11,000 similar lawsuits. The latest absurdity occurred in May when yet another California jury ordered Monsanto to pay $2.2 billion to non-Hodgkin lymphoma patients Alva and Alberta Pilliod. Because these verdicts aren’t based on science, they’ll almost certainly be overturned on appeal.
Glyphosate hysteria in Florida spawned an online petition (signed by 175,738) titled “Stop the State-sanctioned Poisoning of Our Lakes and Rivers” and illustrated with a jolly Roger on a metal drum beside a dead spotted seatrout. On January 28, 2019, Florida responded by imposing a statewide moratorium on all aquatic herbicides.
The moratorium horrified organizations working to protect aquatic life. The Nature Conservancy (TNC)—which depends on glyphosate for fish and wildlife recovery far more than any of the other 18 herbicides it uses—warned of “serious economic and ecological consequences.” And Audubon Florida voiced strong support for herbicide treatments in Lake Okeechobee.
“When a water body gets choked with vegetation, that vegetation dies,” declares TNC’s Kristina Serbesoff-King. “The huge amount of decaying biomass takes out oxygen. That kills fish.”
The Nature Conservancy, which uses glyphosate far more than any of the other 18 herbicides it depends on for fish and wildlife recovery, sprays glyphosate on alien phragmites in the Adirondacks.
LeRoy Rodgers, an invasive species biologist with the South Florida Water Management District, told me this: “In 1986, Florida also had a herbicide moratorium, and in a few short months, our lakes and flow ways were choked with exotic plants. We had to use triple the amount of herbicide we’d used at maintenance mode. It’s unfortunate that people without an understanding of weed management jump to conclusions and miss the big picture.”
On March 4 reason prevailed, and Florida lifted the moratorium. But five days earlier the City of Miami banned glyphosate.
Scientists, not vulturine lawyers and lay-populated juries, determine the safety of herbicides.
But let’s assume that all studies, save IARC’s, are wrong and that glyphosate is “probably carcinogenic”—that is, in the only group ever considered: ag workers who have applied glyphosate for years, often with no protective gear and at thousands of times the concentrations used by water and wildland managers.
In that case, banning all glyphosate use—including the minuscule amounts used to control invasive plants devastating aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems— makes as much sense as banning dental X-rays because first responders at Chernobyl suffered radiation sickness.
Ted Williams’s environmental writings enjoy national acclaim, and keep the bad guys sometimes looking over their shoulders.