A torrent of lawsuits is currently underway, seeking huge damages from Monsanto entirely based on IARC’s “probable” links between Roundup and non-Hodgkins lymphoma (NHL) and associated forms of leukemia. This proclamation, although clearly based on tenuous data, has created a real dilemma for the manufacturer.
The International Agency for Research on Cancer, or IARC, is claiming that an active ingredient, glyphosate, in Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide is “probably carcinogenic to humans.” This agency is the same agency that once claimed that coffee was a possible carcinogen.
A large number of those legal claims face an important legal hearing in a U.S. District Court as early as December, to evaluate the scientific merits of the case. With the looming court dates, the legal and scientific landscape has tended to shift against IARC and the phalanx of plaintiff attorneys.
Finding evidence supporting the IARC’s findings has proven problematic. The U.S., European, Canadian, and Australia safety regulators, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the European Food Safety Authority, and the European Chemicals Agency have all failed to find a cancer-causing link with the herbicide.
Moreover, earlier this month a long unpublished update of a study by the U.S. National Cancer Institute, deemed the most thorough going examination ever done of the herbicide’s medical effects, appeared in the Institute’s “Journal,” where it found that the active ingredient known as glyphosate was “not statistically significantly associated with cancer,” including NHL.
The long-term study, known as the Agricultural Health Study, or Ag Study, essentially repeated conclusions it had originally reached in 2001, based on new analysis that had essentially been completed by 2014.
Inexplicably, IARC did not appear to consider the Ag Study information. A National Cancer Institute official who worked on the study testified in a deposition that the Ag Study information was not considered by IARC because it had not yet been published. Otherwise, it might have affected the IARC outcome.
Further, it has been alleged that IARC’s draft findings on glyphosate selectively suppressed documents by deleting non-carcinogenic findings.
However, even with the mounting scientific evidence, a number of European governments have ignored their own European Commission authority and balking at a five-year renewal of official government registrations of the chemical.
Additionally, a variety of researchers against the European Union decisions, including Christopher Portier, who was a former “invited specialist” in the IARC review of glyphosate, have pushed back. Some have urged the EU’s Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, along with the European Commission general to “reject the flawed EFSA finding,” and “to call for a transparent, open and credible review of the scientific literature.”
The credibility of IARC’s opinion will be decided at a yet to be determined hearing by Judge Vince Chhabria of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. But, a number of American states, led by Missouri, apply a different standard for admitting scientific testimony than the federal standard known as the Daubert standard. Either way, San Francisco judgment is likely to leave a mark on IARC.
Meanwhile, by apparent coincidence, two days before the Ag Study was released, IARC announced a search for a new director for the agency. The current director has been a vocal supporter of IARC’s glyphosate-cancer decision.