Glyphosate risk? Why don’t we enquire ourselves?

Glyphosate risk? Why don’t we enquire ourselves?

by Jonathan Stanley
article from Monday 20, August, 2018

THE CONCERNS over the herbicide glyphosate, originally marketed as the brand Roundup, have grown in recent years.

A recent court case has awarded a man hundreds of million of dollars in punitive damages for a rare skin tumour that it has ruled was caused by massive exposure to glyphosate, often resulting in immersion of limbs in the substance. 

Against this is a backdrop of recent reviews. The EU has concluded glyphosate is not carcinogenic, the International Agency for Research on Cancer says it probably is.

As we are leaving the EU we need to tread carefully on the debate. The Labour deputy leader Tom Watson has commented publicly that the court ruling will lead to massive consequences. That may or may not be the case.

First some background. Glyphosate is considered almost heaven-sent as a herbicide. It kills weeds, it spares cereals and it is safe. It has replaced some rather horrendous chemicals that were previously used. The triazine herbicides spring to mind, given their role as endocrine disruptors. Anything estrogenic in my drinking water is most unwelcome. 

We have used glyphosate for over 40 years and still we cannot say whether or not it causes cancer. It can be easily concluded that it either doesn't at all or we must test further. How much is enough is not easily answered when like so many companies it seems not all the research carried out by glyphosate's developer was published. Likewise we have a primitivist Green movement made up of white middle class graduates who seem nonchalant to the fact the poor of the world cannot afford to be so choosy.

To stop using glyphosate would take for me a huge evidence base and crucially an alternative. It is selfish navel gazing activism that says we can stop using something and let others think of alternatives. It is never the case because in the land of science we can only propose solutions we have. 

A public inquiry into glyphosate to give the UK peace of mind could be done well if it allowed continued use under review and was able to make any ban conditional on suitable alternatives being used. 

While DDT is not a herbicide it has stuck in the mind of a public keen to have their cake and eat when it comes to killing bits of nature that displease us. We have head various scare stories down the years on various chemicals, there is no excuse for us not to have learned from them. Every effort has been put into banning neonicotinoids that few activists really understand while cheap syrup full of HMF has been fed to bees to boost profits and has scarcely been mentioned (caveat: My money is on the HMF) 

The disruption of our food supply cannot be allowed to happen effortlessly as a single court case. We cannot be witchfinder general to every possible risk of powerful chemicals we use daily. We can produce a balanced report that crucially weighs the differences between the findings of both major studies, by the IARC and the EU. It maybe that protective clothing mitigates any increased risk from exposure. 

That is as far as I feel we should go. We have the legal system of Scotland to fall back on if the UK doesn't consider this an issue to deal with.

Dr. Jonathan Stanley is Health Research Fellow at the Bow Group, a Junior Doctor and a Member of the Royal College of Surgeons

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