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John Reitman

By John Reitman

Emotion, not science driving decisions on glyphosate


The agri-chemical industry is rooted in science, but its future is being dictated by emotion.

That must be difficult to understand for those who live in a world where the way pesticides are used is dependent on things like the scientific method. But at least you know what you are dealing with.

Herbicides, insecticides and fungicides used on golf courses are coming under increasing fire. Some locations abroad have announced plans to ban chlorothalonil and the EPA recently canceled registrations for a dozen neonicotinoids. But the recent war on glyphosate has elevated to a level few if any in this business could have imagined. And it’s only just begun.

The World Health Organization, with no scientific evidence, has determined that glyphosate "probably" causes cancer. Maybe it does, maybe it doesn’t, but maybe it could.

The EPA says there is no scientific proof that glyphosate is a carcinogen. Maybe it causes cancer, maybe it doesn’t, but there is no proof it does. 

The only one saying definitively that glyphosate causes cancer has been the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. Three cases, three verdicts in favor of the plaintiffs in excess of $2 billion translate into "no doubt about it, glyphosate is a carcinogen."

Courtroom decisions are being decided by opinion, conjecture and speculation, a world that is foreign to those in the scientific community.

Although there is no scientific data to back up such claims, monetary awards to those who blame the weed killer for causing their cancer have reached into the billions after just three cases have been adjudicated. Although those awards likely will be reduced on appeal, with more than 13,000 similar cases waiting to be heard, the line to cash in at Bayer’s expense is a long one, and it is growing quickly.

The media have piled on, forming a formidable 1-2 punch. At least you know what you are dealing with.

Consider these recent, if not inflammatory headlines:
The unseen carcinogenic danger lurking in New York City’s public parksMartin County stops using glyphosate, found in Roundup, due to cancer, toxic algal blooms
Safe or scary? The shifting reputation of glyphosate\

Bloomberg takes aim at glyphosate in a June 4 editorial Roundup’s risks could go well beyond cancer. The subhead is even worse - Evidence of the cheap herbicide’s danger to biological functions and the environment continues to mount. Why are U.S. regulators not listening?

Bloomberg cites research that conflicts with the EPA-accepted studies and also points to a study that explores the possibility of transgenic passing of traits of glyphosate to their children.

"Studies over the past decade suggest that glyphosate — the active ingredient in Roundup — pollutes water sources, hangs around in soil far longer than previously suspected, and routinely taints human food supplies. In both the U.S. and Europe, the supposedly safe limits for human ingestion are based on long-outdated science."

The piece concludes: "Glyphosate isn't as safe as its manufacturers would like us to believe, and steep reduction in its use is probably long overdue."

Nowhere else in the legal system has the bar been set as low as it has been in the Roundup litigation. 

The reality is large, multinational chemical companies are faceless entities that make easy targets for the judiciary, lawyers hawking their services on late-night TV, journalists and consumers armed with only half the story. And Roundup is just the tip of the iceberg. But at least you know what you are dealing with.

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