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Health Canada to Relabel Roundup Weedkiller

Glyphosate a Carcinogen

Story at-a-glance -

  • The research arm of the World Health Organization (WHO) has declared glyphosate a class 2A carcinogen. Monsanto is pursuing a retraction of their damning report
  • Health Canada has announced it will update Roundup’s label to reduce human and environmental exposure
  • As many as 20,000 farm workers in the US may be seriously injured each year as a result of pesticide exposure

By Dr. Mercola

In late March, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), which is the research arm of the World Health Organization (WHO), published their assessment1,2,3 of the carcinogenicity of a number of organophosphate pesticides, including glyphosate.

Glyphosate was determined to be a “probable carcinogen” (Class 2A), based on “limited evidence” showing that the popular weed killer can cause non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and lung cancer in humans, along with “convincing evidence” it can also cause cancer in animals.

Glyphosate and glyphosate formulations have also been shown to induce DNA and chromosomal damage in mammals, as well as human and animal cells in vitro.

It’s worth noting that while recent years have turned up studies raising serious questions about the safety of glyphosate, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) raised the allowable limits for glyphosate in food in 2013. And, as reported by the Institute for Science in Society:4

“The amount of allowable glyphosate in oilseed crops (except for canola and soy) went up from 20 ppm to 40 ppm, 100 000 times the amount needed to induce breast cancer cells.”  [Emphasis mine]

Root and tuber vegetables (with the exception of sugar) got one of the largest boosts, with allowable residue limits being raised from 0.2 ppm to 6.0 ppm. Meanwhile, malformations in frog and chicken embryos have been documented at 2.03 ppm of glyphosate.5

Glyphosate-Contaminated Foods May Eventually Carry Cancer Warning in CA

IARC is considered the global gold standard for carcinogenicity studies, so its determination is of considerable importance.

It may even end up having a significant impact on the sale of genetically engineered (GE) foods, as the IARC is one of the five research agencies from which the OEHHA—the California agency of environmental hazards—gets its reports to declare carcinogens under Prop 65.

What this means is that in a few years’ time, foods containing glyphosate will have to have a Prop 65 Warning label to be sold in California. And since glyphosate cannot be washed off6 once sprayed on a crop, a Prop 65 label would likely have to be applied to most non-organic processed foods.

Faithful to its modus operandi, Monsanto is pursuing a retraction of the IARC’s damning report.7

Canada to ReLabel Roundup

While officially disagreeing with the IARC’s determination, after re-evaluating Roundup in partnership with the US EPA, Health Canada recently announced it will update Roundup’s label directions to reduce human and environmental exposure.

As reported by The Star,8 changes to Roundup’s label will include:

  • A statement that application should only be done when the potential for drift to residential or populated areas is minimal
  • Agricultural workers will be advised not to enter fields for 12 hours following application
  • An environmental hazard statement will inform users that the product can be toxic to non-targeted species
  • Spray buffer zones will be recommended to protect land and aquatic habitats from unintended exposure
  • Precautionary statements to reduce the potential for run-off of glyphosate into aquatic habitats
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Roundup Also Promotes Antibiotic-Resistant Superbugs

Right on the heels of the IARC’s reclassification of glyphosate as a Class 2 A carcinogen, another breakthrough study9,10,11 ties Monsanto’s weed killer to the rising scourge of antibiotic resistance.

In this first of its kind study, the researchers found that commonly used herbicides promote antibiotic resistance by priming pathogens to more readily become resistant to antibiotics. 

This includes Roundup, which was shown to increase the antibiotic-resistance of E. coli and Salmonella. As reported by Rodale News,12 the herbicide causes this effect by turning on a set of genes in the bacterium that just so happens to make it more resistant to antibiotics.

In a nutshell, Roundup “produces tolerance to antibiotics in the bacteria. This genetic switch-on occurs at the typical levels of exposure associated with agricultural and residential application.

It’s worth noting that both E. coli and Salmonella are commonly associated with foodborne illness outbreaks originating in factory farms where animals are typically fed a diet of genetically engineered corn and soy, which tend to be heavily contaminated with glyphosate.

The Growing Plight of Farm Workers Exposed to Toxic Chemicals

Getting back to the issue of toxicity, as many as 20,000 farm workers in the US may be sickened each year as a result of pesticide exposure. More than half are undocumented immigrants, which compounds the problem by the fact that they have no real legal recourse, and usually refuse to speak up for fear of deportation.

Mere handfuls of formal complaints are filed each year, which makes it difficult to track and evaluate the human health impacts of pesticide exposure. As previously reported by Mother Jones:13

"’The system in place to address pesticide exposure is horrible. It's dysfunctional,’ said Caitlin Berberich, an attorney with Southern Migrant Legal Services, a Nashville nonprofit that provides free legal services to farmworkers in six Southern states...

Some top state regulators agree the full toll of pesticides on farmworkers is not documented. Yet reforms requiring more complete disclosure of pesticide use have been caught up in EPA red tape...

The EPA ‘estimates that 10,000-20,000 physician-diagnosed pesticide poisonings occur each year among the approximately 2 million US agricultural workers,’ federal records show... No one, the EPA included, has a full picture of the problem.

An EPA slideshow report14 in 2006, for instance, opened with a question: How many occupational pesticide incidents are there each year in the United States?

The slide listed multiple possibilities, from 1,300 to 300,000. Each number could be true, the report said—it just depends upon the source... This uncertainty... can carry real consequences.

As its slide noted, the lack of accurate information ‘inhibits clear problem identification.’
Advocates say the dearth of information triggers another problem: It's hard to hold government and industry accountable when there is no benchmark from which to judge.”

As noted by Think Progress,15 while there’s a shortage of studies showing the effects of pesticide exposure on farmworkers, effects ranging from vomiting and skin rashes to leukemia, brain cancer, birth defects, and nerve damage have been reported.

With regards to glyphosate, drinking water contaminated with glyphosate and spraying glyphosate on rice fields without protective gear has been linked to chronic kidney disease.16

Environmental Causes May Account for 90 Percent of Diseases

According to Joseph E. Pizzorno,17 founding president of Bastyr University, co-author of the Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine and The Clinician's Handbook of Natural Medicine, and former advisor to President Clinton on complementary and alternative medicines, toxins in the modern food supply are now “a major contributor to.

In some cases the cause of, virtually all chronic diseases.” Dr. David Bellinger, a professor of Neurology at Harvard Medical School has expressed similar concerns. According to his estimates, Americans have lost a total of 16.9 million IQ points due to exposure to organophosphate pesticides.18 Pizzorno believes pesticides may also play a significant role in the worldwide obesity epidemic, saying:

"Researchers are now finding such a strong connection between the body load of these chemicals [contaminating the food supply] and diabetes and obesity that they are being called 'diabetogens' and 'obesogens'."  

Pizzorno also points out that our modern food supply (most of which is heavily processed) also hampers your body’s detoxification process as a result of being deficient in key nutrients. An interesting admission and change of thought expressed on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) webpage on exposomics19 is the fact that, conversely to what researchers originally thought, the vast majority of diseases do NOT appear to have a genetic origin. According to the CDC:

“One of the promises of the human genome project was that it could revolutionize our understanding of the underlying causes of disease and aid in the development of preventions and cures for more diseases. Unfortunately, genetics has been found to account for only about 10% of diseases, and the remaining causes appear to be from environmental causes. So to understand the causes and eventually the prevention of disease, environmental causes need to be studied.”

How to Reduce Your Family’s Exposure to Pesticides

As noted by Pizzorno, your toxic load is closely linked to your diet, as so many of the chemicals we’re exposed to on a daily basis are contaminants in foods and/or its packaging. Non-organic processed foods will expose you to the greatest amounts of chemicals and potential toxins, including pesticides and genetically engineered organisms (GMOs), but virtually all non-organic whole foods will tend to be contaminated with pesticides to some degree as well. To reduce your family’s exposure to pesticides and other toxic chemicals, consider the following advice:

  1. Buy organic fruits and vegetables. Non-organic fruits and vegetables most likely to be grown using pesticides include apples, peaches, celery, and potatoes. For a full list of the most and least contaminated produce, please see the Environmental Working Group’s shopper’s guide to pesticides.20
  2. Add fermented foods to your diet. The lactic acid bacteria formed during the fermentation of kimchi may help your body break down pesticides, so including fermented foods can be a wise strategy to help your body’s natural detoxification processes. Pizzorno also recommends making sure you’re getting enough fiber in your diet, as it too plays an important role in detoxification.
  3. Choose seafood wisely. Opt for low-mercury fish varieties, such as wild caught Alaskan salmon, anchovies, and sardines, and avoid farm-raised fish, which are often heavily contaminated with PCBs and mercury. To optimize your omega-3, you may also consider taking a krill oil supplement.
  4. Filter your tap water. Municipal water supplies can be contaminated with any number of potential toxins, so filtering your water is always a wise idea. Be particularly mindful of avoiding fluoridated water when preparing infant formula.
  5. Replace your non-stick pots and pans with ceramic or glass cookware.
  6. Avoid plastic food containers, bottles, and mugs. Instead, opt for glass, ceramic, or stainless steel varieties.
  7. Avoid using dangerous chemicals on your lawn. If you have a lawn care service, make sure they’re not using organophosphate pesticides.
  8. Check your school's/employer’s pest control policy. If they have not already done so, encourage your school district/employer to move to Integrated Pest Management, which uses less toxic alternatives.
  9. Switch to organic personal care products, and avoid using artificial air fresheners, dryer sheets, fabric softeners, or other synthetic fragrances. Any product containing “fragrance” will typically contain high levels of endocrine-disrupting phthalates.