A joint meeting of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) the World Health Organization (WHO) has concluded that the pesticide glyphosate is “unlikely to pose a carcinogenic risk to humans from exposure through the diet”.
The conclusion, arrived after a joint analysis of evidence on three pesticides (glyphosate, diazinon and malathion), appears to directly contradict an assessment by the WHO’s cancer agency in 2015 that glyphosate – the key ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup weedkiller – is a “probably” a human carcinogen.
In its summary report, the FAO/WHO panel writes: “Glyphosate has been extensively tested for genotoxic effects using a variety of tests in a wide range of organisms. The overall weight of evidence indicates that administration of glyphosate and its formulation products at doses as high as 2000 mg/kg body weight by the oral route, the route most relevant to human dietary exposure, was not associated with genotoxic effects in an overwhelming majority of studies conducted in mammals, a model considered to be appropriate for assessing genotoxic risks to humans.
“Several carcinogenicity studies in mice and rats are available. The Meeting concluded that glyphosate is not carcinogenic in rats but could not exclude the possibility that it is carcinogenic in mice at very high doses. In view of the absence of carcinogenic potential in rodents at human-relevant doses and the absence of genotoxicity by the oral route in mammals, and considering the epidemiological evidence from occupational exposures, the Meeting concluded that glyphosate is unlikely to pose a carcinogenic risk to humans from exposure through the diet.”
However, the panel has emphasized that its review did not consider environmental exposure to glyphosate. Harry van der Wulp, a senior policy officer at the FAO, told The Guardian: “These conclusions relate to exposure through the diet – that is very important. It is not a general conclusion because anything beyond the diet was not in our mandate. It remains less clear what the situation is with occupational exposure.”
WHO/FAO have NOT given glyphosate a ‘clean bill of health’ says pesticide campaigner
The pesticide campaigner Georgina Downs has criticized media coverage of the recent WHO/FAO review of glyphosate.
Writing in The Ecologist she says that headlines suggesting glyphosate has been given a ‘clean bill of health’ (the wording used by The Guardian) are “seriously misleading” as the study looked only at dietary exposure.
She writes: “The (WHO/FAO findings were not in relation to glyphosate exposure via the air during and after applications of this weedkiller – and which constitutes exposure for many ‘humans’/’people’, especially rural residents living near crops sprayed with glyphosate.”
She adds: “(The WHO/FAO review) … is clearly only referring to whether these three pesticides, including glyphosate, are likely to pose a carcinogenic risk to consumers from exposure through the diet, and so is not regarding the higher level of exposure for other exposure groups.”
Downs, who has lived next to regularly sprayed crop fields for more than 30 years and runs the UK Pesticides Campaign, says there remain major flaws in current methods of exposure and risk assessment for pesticides.
She writes: “ … there is still no actual risk assessment for the real life exposure of residents who live in the locality of crop-sprayed fields – and which obviously includes babies, children, pregnant women, the elderly, and people already ill and/or disabled (and where any interactions or synergistic effects between pesticides and any medication must be accounted for).”