Monsanto sued in state Superior Court to overrule the California listing but lost in March, and it has appealed that decision. Its bid to temporarily halt the cancer listing pending trial was rejected by a state appellate court and the California Supreme Court. The company says that labeling glyphosate a cancer risk is unjustified.
It argues that the International Agency for Research on Cancer erred by neglecting to consider data suggesting no link between glyphosate and non-Hodgkin lymphoma. That research was in an unpublished part of the multiyear and multifaceted Agricultural Health Study, which assesses the effects of pesticide exposure on farmers. The international cancer agency, an independent panel of scientists, said it weighs only published, peer-reviewed studies.
Other studies also have failed to establish a convincing link between glyphosate and cancer. Earlier this year, the European Union's chemical safety regulator determined there was not sufficient evidence to classify glyphosate as a carcinogen, though it did say the compound could cause eye damage and long-term harm to aquatic life.
But the international cancer agency, which said it examined about 1,000 studies, determined there was enough information to support its finding of a link between glyphosate and cancer.
Advocates for farmers say California's plan to require warning labels for glyphosate-based products is wrong-headed. At a June hearing, Cynthia Cory, environmental affairs director for the nonprofit California Farm Bureau Federation, told the board of the health hazard assessment agency that the herbicide is an important tool for farmers. It ultimately benefits the environment, she said, because "it allows us to reduce our tractor passes, which means you have cleaner air."
Dr. Michelle Perro, a pediatrician who treats children for glyphosate exposure, offered the board a different viewpoint. "What I am seeing is sicker kids," she said.
Research suggests that Roundup and other glyphosate-based herbicides may be linked not only to cancer but to a variety of other health problems. Recent studies link the compound to DNA and chromosomal damage in human cells, kidney failure, chronic kidney disease, intestinal disorders, Celiac disease and autism.
About 250 million pounds of glyphosate were sprayed on U.S. crops in 2014, a ninefold increase in just under two decades, according to a study in the journal Environmental Sciences Europe. Two-thirds of all the glyphosate used in the U.S. during the 40 years from 1974 to 2014 was sprayed in the last decade.
And you don't need to live next to farm fields to be exposed to it, said Dr. Paul Winchester, a clinical professor of neonatology at Indiana University School of Medicine and medical director of the neonatal unit at Franciscan St. Francis Health in Indianapolis. "It turns out it's in almost every (non-organic) food."
That concerns him in light of a study that suggests chromosomal damage caused by pesticides has the potential to embed in DNA and get passed down to future generations.
Teri McCall said she applauds California's decision to list glyphosate as a carcinogen and hopes it will help protect others from the kind of loss she's suffered.
Since her husband's death, "it's kind of like my life of living color has gone to black-and-white," she said. "My life with Jack was just so full of joy and laughter and fun, and this has just left a huge void. ... Every day is just a series of efforts to escape the loss and there's just no escaping it."
(Kaiser Health News (KHN) is a national health policy news service. It is an editorially independent program of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. This story was produced by Kaiser Health News, which publishes California Healthline, a service of the California Health Care Foundation.)
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