By Ted Sheely: Lemoore, California
Farmers in California have it tough these days. Despite recent rainfall from El Nino, we continue to suffer through one of the worst droughts in history. We still don’t have enough water to feed our crops.
Now state regulators are trying to deny us the right to use one of the best and safest crop-protection products in the world.
They claim that glyphosate causes cancer. This is sheer nonsense—a cockamamie idea rejected by scientists and regulators for decades. It threatens to raise food prices on ordinary consumers, force farmers and others to adopt less tested technologies, and, perhaps worst of all, spread unwarranted fear among the public.
The problem started last year, when a French-based unit of the United Nations, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), announced that glyphosate is a “probable human carcinogen.”
Nobody wants to use products that cause cancer. Farmers like me devote themselves to the business of growing healthy and nutritious food, not spreading sickness and disease.
That’s one of the reasons we prefer glyphosate: It’s one of the most scrutinized chemicals on the planet. Researchers have studied it for 40 years and they’ve consistently determined that it’s safe for ordinary use. It’s not just for farmers, either. If you’ve spread weed killer in your garden, you’ve probably used glyphosate.
When regulators give glyphosate a new look, as they routinely do, they find nothing new to report. “Our review concluded that this body of research does not provide evidence to show that glyphosate causes cancer,” announced the Environmental Protection Agency last year.
The European Food Safety Authority agreed. “Glyphosate did not present genotoxic potential and no evidence of carcinogenicity was observed in rats or mice,” reported the EFSA in its analysis last year.
Other groups have said much the same thing, over and over. I will spare you additional quotes from agencies such as the Canadian Pest Management Regulatory Authority. Just know that safety of glyphosate is proven.
Earlier this year, however, the IARC went rogue and classified glyphosate as a “probable carcinogen”. Exactly how the group made its determination remains unclear—important details remain unavailable to other researchers—but the classification nevertheless generated headlines.
Everybody should know two things about IARC. First, it has a long history of alarmism: A few years ago, for instance, it peddled the now-discredited idea that cell phones cause brain cancer. Second, its own organizational preamble warns policymakers not to take its findings too seriously: “No recommendation is given with regard to regulation or legislation.”
Despite this, California’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) decided late last year to change its previous determination, consistent with mainstream scientific opinion, that glyphosate is safe. Leaning on IARC’s hotly disputed claim, it has chosen to reclassify glyphosate as carcinogenic.
This is the very definition of a reckless bureaucracy.
Under the auspices of Proposition 65, a well-intentioned law approved by voters a generation ago, California now labels just about everything as carcinogenic. We see Prop 65 warning stickers everywhere, from grocery stores to gas stations. A few weeks ago, I saw one posted at my local Starbucks.
It seems that in the eyes of the OEHHA, even things that don’t cause cancer in fact cause cancer.
The regulators should back off—and thankfully, legal action may force them to do so.
In the meantime, though, farmers like me will suffer a new attack at the worst of times. Our state government already prevents us from acquiring our fair share of the water we need to grow our crops, putting the agenda of radical environmentalists ahead of the needs of agriculture and the interests of consumers. The root of this problem, though, is a drought that nobody wants or can control.
OEHHA’s new anti-scientific scheme is different. It’s a deliberate choice. And it adds to our burdens, telling us that we cannot have water for crops nor can we protect them from weeds.
Bureaucrats in Sacramento should quit taking their cues from an unaccountable agency in France. They should pay attention to what respected American scientists at the EPA have said for years about glyphosate and then think about the good of California’s people.
Ted Sheely raises lettuce, cotton, tomatoes, onions, wheat, pistachios, wine grapes and garlic on a family farm in the California San Joaquin Valley. He volunteers as a board member for the Global Farmer Network.