IARC Alarmism Puts Rats Before Farmers
Jul 13, 2017
By Tim Burrack: Arlington, Iowa
Some things are said to be “too big to fail.”
Now it seems that some truths are “too big to publish.”
That’s one of the jaw-dropping explanations behind the mad rush to label the world’s most widely-used herbicide as cancer causing—a bad choice that has caused enormous problems for farmers like me who rely on this tried-and-true crop-protection technology.
Last month, Kate Kelland of Reuters published a blockbuster expose on the controversial decision two years ago by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) to declare glyphosate a probable source of cancer.
The sub-headline of her online article sums up the problem: “The World Health Organization’s cancer agency says a common weed killer is ‘probably carcinogenic.’ The scientist leading that review knew of fresh data showing no cancer link—but he never mentioned it and the agency did not take it into account.”
Why not? Here’s how Kelland describes the decision by researcher Aaron Blair to exclude the evidence that ran contrary to IARC’s cancer designation: “Blair told Reuters the data, which was available two years before IARC assessed glyphosate, was not published in time because there was too much to fit into one scientific paper.”
That’s like a professor of American literature who refuses to read “Moby Dick” because it’s “too long.”
Yet it gets even worse.
The data about glyphosate that Blair withheld from IARC appears in something called the Agricultural Health Study, a decades-long examination of 89,000 farmers and their spouses in Iowa and North Carolina. Coordinated by a series of federal agencies, including the National Cancer Institute, it searches for connections between pesticides and cancer.
This is a massive project whose very purpose is to protect human health through the proper study of herbicides and pesticides. Ignoring the fact that it has found no link between glyphosate and cancer is not merely bizarre, but positively unconscionable.
IARC’s decision about glyphosate, by the way, relied heavily on animal studies. In other words, it allowed research on lab rats to trump a massive database on real-life farm families and their real-world experiences.
IARC’s shoddy decision has generated a tremendous amount of regulatory confusion in the United States and Europe. California, for example, recently announced that glyphosate has been added to a list of chemicals, as required by Prop 65, that cause cancer. The makers of glyphosate are also defending themselves in court against plaintiffs who claim a connection between glyphosate and cancer in humans.
Those lawsuits are almost certainly bogus—and Blair knows it. Here’s Kelland’s account: “In a sworn deposition given in March this year in connection with the case, Blair also said that data would have altered IARC’s analysis. He said it would have made it less likely that glyphosate would meet the agency’s criteria for being classified as ‘probably carcinogenic.’”
And yet he chose to hide the data because the truth is too big to publish.
Kelland tracked down independent experts who criticized Blair’s behavior as well as IARC’s glyphosate ruling. She also pointed out that IARC continues to defy the consensus of other scientific and regulatory bodies that have said that glyphosate poses no cancer risk to people, including the Environmental Protection Agency, the European Food Safety Authority, and agencies in Canada, Japan, and elsewhere.
Like any good reporter, she approached IARC for a comment and specifically asked whether it would reconsider its erroneous cancer designation.
IARC’s response: No.
This is baffling—unless, of course, we conclude that IARC is more interested in pushing provocative press releases than in discovering the truth. I hate it when sound science and research is sabotaged.
You know who has an interest in the truth about glyphosate? Me.
I’ve used glyphosate on my farm for years to control weeds in my corn and soybean fields. Like most farmers, I’m trying to grow as much food as possible—and we all depend on effective crop-protection tools.
We also expect them to be safe because we come into close contact with these chemicals. If glyphosate causes cancer, farmers will be the first to fall sick. Many of our customers – you – use glyphosate (Roundup®) around your home, on your driveways and sidewalks to kill weeds safely as well.
What we’re really suffering from is a phony alarmism stoked by a single agency that appears uninterested in either seeking the truth or correcting its own mistakes.
Tim Burrack raises corn, soybeans and pork on a NE Iowa family farm. He serves as Vice-Chairman and volunteers as a Board Member for the Global Farmer Network (www.globalfarmernetwork.org).
Follow us: Global Farmer Network on Facebook | @GlobalFarmerNet and @World_Farmers on Twitter.