The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) and the French-based cancer research arm of the World Health Organization (WHO) have listed glyphosate, the main ingredient in Roundup weed killer, as a probable human carcinogen.
The weed killer falls between known carcinogen and possible carcinogen on the agency’s listing, mostly for its industrial use. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said it would consider the agency’s findings, according to the AP.
Glyphosate is a non-selective herbicide used on both food and non-food crops and as a plant-growth regulator. It’s the main ingredient in Roundup weed killer, the most popular herbicide in the U.S., and is often used along with Monsanto’s Roundup Ready crops because the genetically modified seeds are made to resist the chemical. As a result, the weed killer is widely used across large swaths of monoculture crops. (In the U.S., 89 percent of corn and 93 percent of soy are genetically modified.)
Some studies have found glyphosate can increase the risk of lymphoma. It’s also been linked to a number of cancers in lab rats.
According to EPA, the use of glyphosate has increased dramatically in the past three decades:
Glyphosate is among the most widely used pesticides by volume. In 1986, an estimated 6,308,000 pounds of glyphosate was used in the United States. Usage in 1990 was estimated to be 11,595,000 pounds. It ranked eleventh among conventional pesticides in the US during 1990-91. In recent years, 13 to 20 million acres were treated with 18.7 million lbs. annually. Glyphosate is generally sold as the isopropylamine salt and applied as a liquid foliar spray.
Its increased use is problematic for consumers, who may not be aware of how much residue ends up on the foods they're eating—though the largest concern is for agricultural workers who deal with the chemical firsthand.
"All labeled uses of glyphosate are safe for human health," Monsanto's Phil Miller, global head of regulatory and government affairs, said in a statement reported by AP.
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Image of rows of soy plants via Shuttershock