Many of us are aware of industry-funded efforts over many years to cast doubt on the independent, academy-centered science that has established the health and environmental risks of smoking, second-hand tobacco smoke, particulate-matter air pollution, and climate change. Over the past three years, a new campaign has been mounted to sow confusion around the use of pesticides — in particular glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup herbicides. This antibiotic poison is, according to a Reuters report, the world’s most widely used weedkiller, deployed in agriculture, forestry and domestic gardening.

In March 2015, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), the specialized cancer research agency of the World Health Organization (WHO), declared glyphosate to be a “probable human carcinogen.” Their decision was based on a years-long review of peer-reviewed epidemiological studies on the subject by an international panel of toxicologists and biostatisticians. 

The finding was immediately challenged by Monsanto and attacked by industry-sponsored NGOs such as CropLife International, the lobbying organization for the agrochemical industry. Soon thereafter, the IARC finding was contradicted by the European Food Safety Agency, which declared that the evidence did not support IARC’s conclusion. Arguments over what constitutes valid evidence have become vitriolic, as would be expected given the high stakes involved.

In the wake of the IARC finding, more than 375 lawsuits are pending against Monsanto in U.S. District Court in San Francisco, filed by people alleging that exposure to Roundup herbicide caused them or their loved ones to develop non-Hodgkin lymphoma, and that Monsanto covered up the risks. The plaintiff’s primary expert, Dr. Christopher Portier, has come under withering attack, alleging conflicts of interest and incompetence in an effort to discredit him for his role in both the lawsuit and the original IARC finding.

Similar tactics succeeded in delaying health initiatives to reduce smoking for decades. But the discovery process for the San Francisco lawsuit is now resulting in the public release of internal Monsanto documents, which promise to expose the company’s tactics early on, and could potentially lead to a real debate on the regulation of pesticides and toxins in the United States. 

You can follow these developments on the website of GoGreen Oak Park. And on April 12, you can attend a public lecture at Trinity High School in River Forest by Dr. Thierry Vrain, a retired genetic engineer who will discuss the latest science on glyphosate and human and environmental health. 

For details and registration information, visit www.gogreenoakpark.org.

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