A large part of the organic movement has been fueled in part by the fear that the pesticides, herbicides and fungicides used in the farming process are exposed to the food that we eat. While it doesn’t take too much of a stretch of the imagination to assume that if pesticides were deadly to smaller organisms, that they just might be harmful to us too. Pictures of farmers spraying their crops with full hazardous materials suits and poison hazard signs all over their farm don’t really convey any “warms and fuzzies” either.

Glyphosate (known more commonly as Roundup) in particular is a chemical owned by our lovely friends at Monsanto Corporation (sarcasm) and is one of the most wildly used herbicides in the world; nearly 9 billion kilograms dumped on our planet and counting. Farmers use it in annually increasing amounts to destroy the weeds that compete with the crop they are intending to grow such as soy and corn, thereby improving crop yields and Monsanto’s bank account. But wait…there’s more. Glyphosate (owned by Monsanto) works best when used with genetically-modified-glyphosate-resistant crops (also owned by Monsanto). Perhaps not coincidentally, by 2016, there was a 100-fold increase in the use of glyphosate due to an unprecedented spread of glyphosate-resistant weeds. You know how humans create super-bugs through the overuse of antibiotics? Well…same thing but with plants.

But let’s examine the subject at hand. Does glyphosate cause cancer in humans?

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has been classifying substances for years, and are considered the gold standard as to whether something “officially” causes cancer. Cigarettes, asbestos, formaldehyde and 113 other chemicals have made it to the deadly list as of this writing. The IARC uses a category rating system that determines just how big of a “hazard” a particular chemical or chemical mixture actually is. Group 1 (causes cancer) and Group 2 (probably causes cancer), are the two lists that are worth paying attention to.

Group 1 includes a variety of chemicals, though common elements like alcoholic beverages, processed meats, diesel exhaust, wood dust and UV rays are on this list. Things on this list definitely cause cancer (defined by sufficient human and animal research), but don't state "how much" cancer they cause. For instance, we all get hit by UV rays but that doesn't guarantee that we'll get cancer. It's a matter of how much UV radiation we are exposed to as to whether we'll actually get cancer from that exposure. Same goes for alcoholic drinks, bacon etc. Items in this group have been identified as hazards, known to cause cancer, but the amounts are not specified.

Group 2 has sufficient animal evidence but typically non-sufficient human evidence that something causes cancer. In many cases, items on this list graduate to Group 1 as evidence becomes more "sufficient". There is good reason to believe that things in Group 2A "probably" cause cancer but that we should hold judgement until more human data emerges. Insecticides, red meat and yes - glyphosate exist in this category. With respect to the subject at hand, glyphosate has demonstrated correlative links in epidemiological cancer studies, and evidence that it causes cancer have been found in animal studies and in vitro (it causes cancer in a lab setting in a petri dish or test tube). Specifically, non-Hodgkin lymphoma is the cancer being targeted by those with concern regarding glyphosate. Human data is currently lacking to IARC standards however, making glyphosate linger in Category 2 until it finally graduates to Category 1, at which point we can scratch our heads as a species as to why we covered the planet with glyphosate for decades while poisoning ourselves in the process. (My guess is that it has something to do with a revolving door situation whereby big wigs trade a job at Monsanto for a position on the board of the Environmental Protection Agency and back again but I digresss)

It is also worth noting that many of these studies that deemed glyphosate as safe were undertaken 15-20 years ago, and as stated previously, we use approximately 100x more glyphosate today than we did back then.

Like anything that definitely or even probably causes cancer, quantity of exposure makes all the difference. It's not enough to just get omega 3 in your diet to reap the benefits; you need to have enough of it. Likewise it's not enough to get lung cancer from having a cigarette; you need to smoke enough of them. It's this grey “hiding” area that tobacco companies used for years to downplay the effects of smoking and it's one that Monsanto (given their track record) is probably using now to minimize the health implications of glyphosate when billions of dollars in revenue are at stake.

In the meantime, I think it's safe to say that limiting your exposure to glyphosate in the same way you limit yourself to UV rays, cigarette smoke and bacon are the best practices. If you haven’t already started your own backyard garden, now might be the time to do so!

For further reading http://ehjournal.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12940-016-0117-0