Pesticide Action Week 2015 had just started when I had read some interesting news: “Roundup weedkiller ‘probably’* causes cancer, says WHO study”
The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) – an agency affiliated with the World Health Organization – had recently published the assessment of carcinogenicity of five organophosphate pesticides, among which glyphosate, the active ingredient on which Monsanto’s herbicide Roundup, is based.
And, thanks to Monsanto, of the five compounds, glyphosate is the most widely used, since it is the main herbicides against which crops have been genetically engineered (GE) to be tolerant to, as “GE Roundup Ready” crops.
When the GE crops were first introduced, one of the many claims was that they would need less chemicals to thrive. But, we have seen a dramatic rise in the number and extent of weeds that have become resistant to glyphosate and, as a consequence, the amount of this herbicide used by farmers has kept increasing too.
This is not the first study on glyphosate. Its toxicity has been studied both alone and in combination with the other ingredients used in the Roundup formulation.
In the US, where 73.1 million of acres are dedicated to GE crops, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) has given its thumbs up on the use of glyphosate. The same authority also controls the residues of pesticides permitted in food. These same levels were raised in 2013 following a request by Monsanto.
Doubts have been growing even in the communities of users as witnessed by some US farmers after they’d been convinced that GE crops would improve their yields, assured this latest IARC assessment will add weight to arguments by those who believe that Roundup could be damaging their health.
For Monsanto the IARC assessment is bad news. The company’s representatives told Reuters they will seek a retraction of the report. After all, ‘Monsanto’s $15.9 billion annual sales are closely tied to glyphosate. And most of the company’s crops are designed to be used in tandem with it.’
Huge interests are at stake, but also huge responsibilities, and I am not referring to Monsanto’s stakeholders, but to the farmers and the consumers, and ultimately to the planet and its biodiversity.
“Probably” the time has come to make sure that what’s driving the decisions of the kind of agriculture that will feed the world in the future are not companies with a pocket-filling agenda.
Our planet has limited resources and we have many challenges to cope with.
What we need to do is to invest in an agriculture that can face the changing climate: reliable and achievable biotech improvements that don’t include GE crops. We need an agriculture that helps nourish our soil and protects biodiversity. An agriculture where farmers and consumers have their say and they are not just numbers in the great scheme of corporate agribusiness.
We need to invest in ecological-farming. We need to take ownership once more of the connection with our food. This is the first step if we want to be healthy humans living on a healthy planet.
Patrizia Cuonzo is Media Specialist at Greenpeace International.
* And whether you wonder what does the ‘probably’ in the Guardian’s headline means, the IARC is grouping the assessments of carcinogenicity into five categories where the ‘probably ‘ (Group 2A) is stronger than the ‘possibly’ (Group 2B) but weaker than the plain ‘carcinogenic to humans’ (Group 1).
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