California to list glyphosate as carcinogenic


This refers to Jeremy Austin’s assertions in his response to my piece in the Opinion Column of The Island of June 29 and that of Prof. Chandre Dharmawardene in the same Column yesterday. The Californian court judgment, however, is not a total ban, as purported by him but to incorporate a warning label that glyphosate is probably carcinogenic. It would appear that the decision had been based on the International Agency for Research on Cancer (ICAR) 2015 Report on which, however, as I stated before, there had been a large number of opposing views by highly reputed individual scientists and scientific organisations. In any case, given the ICAR report and perhaps other evidence the courts appear to have applied "the precautionary principle" in its judgment. In fact, the Sri Lankan government should take a hint from the Californian judgment: label the product but lift the ban!

Aaron Blair, Leader of the International Agency for Research on Cancer Team

Interestingly, however, Kate Kelland in a Reuters Report released earlier this month states that the leader of the IARC Review Team, Aaron Blair, was aware of fresh data showing no cancer- glyphosate link but never mentioned it to his team during deliberations. So the Agency did not take it into account apparently also keeping to its principle that only published data are considered in IARC deliberations. It is also reported that in a sworn deposition given in March this year in an ongoing US legal case against Monsanto, Blair said that data would have altered the IARC decision! He had also said that it would have made it less likely that glyphosate would meet the Agency’s criteria for being classed as ‘probably cancer causing’. Ironically, the new data came from a large American study on which Blair himself was a senior researcher! So wheels within wheels! Austin, alas, is apparently unaware of these facts. Given the wealth of evidence, the IARC should now review its decision.

Austin has referred to a review by some scientists of Kings College, University of London published in an open access journal in 2016, months after the IARC report came out. There are hundreds of such papers but what is important are the numerous country reviews and international reports I have in my previous piece quoted the report of the Joint Meeting of Pesticide Residues which met last year and declared that there is no tangible evidence to implicate glyphosate as being carcinogenic or genotoxic. Soon after the IARC report was published at least 20 reputed scientific organisations such as the Royal Society of England and over 10 Nobel laureates, affirmed their objection to the decision of the IARC. There is also the paper published in the ‘Critical Reviews of Toxicology in 2016 by four independent panels of experts from the U.S, the U.K, Canada, Brazil and Denmark which has bluntly rejected the findings of IARC. So Austin with a basic knowledge of biochemistry should have read these papers and reports too before taking such a biased stand. So Austin, all these people are not glyphosate pushers but reputed scientists like Prof. Dharmawardene. He is undoubtedly one of the most brilliant scientists in our times. Apart from his credentials cited he, as Vice Chancellor of the Sri Jayawardenepura University, was responsible for setting up the Food Technology Department, and is well –versed in all current science affairs; hence his strong reaction to your limited and thoroughly biased views. He has studied the subject of glyphosate thorough!

We speak with conviction based on scientific facts and have no other agendas You also seem to have ‘dug’ into my CV! Yes, I have had varied agricultural research interests in my carrier spanning over 50 years, including agrochemicals. I was one of the first scientists to use glyphosate in Sri Lanka as far back as 1980. My CV did not state that, I refused a highly lucrative offer of a post in an agrochemical company in the late 1960s, opting to continue in a state research institution for a paltry salary because of my abiding interest in research!

My concern is that unavailability of this weed killer which is affecting the agriculture of this country and me too as a part -time farmer who has used it for over 3 decades. As regards ‘blue murder’ of Anuradhapura farmers that you speak about, no farmer here is afflicted with any illness even suspected to be caused by glyphosate. But all farmers in the dry zone who have had reasonable returns on their maize cultivation are now affected by high weeding costs. They say that as against, Rs 3000/ac weed control cost with glyphosate, its ban is now costing them Rs 10,000 to physically weed the fields. And please be informed that there is absolutely no evidence to link glyphosate with CKDu. That hypothesis proposed by a few half- baked scientists has been torn to bits by several top professors of chemistry here; and no other scientist or scientific research paper has supported it anywhere in the world.

Our concern is the chemical and not the proprietary company. There are dozens of companies, not only Monsanto, now producing glyphosate including one in Cuba, which went totally organic in 1989, but is now reverting to the use of agrochemicals gradually. Our problem is that the local anti-science zealots like you have ’ thrown the baby away with the bath water’! Our mission solely is to resuscitate it! No other country has banned glyphosate.

I am sorry to learn that you are afflicted with some ailment which apparently you think is caused by glyphosate. Your association with glyphosate necessarily does not imply that it is the cause of your illness. With you basic knowledge of biochemistry you should know that there are some eight conditions to be satisfied, the so called Bradford Hill criteria, to link causation with association. You should also know that Bombastus Paracelsus (1491-1943) the founder of the science of pharmacology stated that all substances are poisons!; there is nothing which is not a poison ; and it is the dosage that differentiates a poison and remedy. In other words, it if at all, the overuse of glyphosate that is causing health problems, in the west. You people drench your GM crops with glyphosate!

The local studies show that glyphosate levels are in the parts per billion range in our food, water and soil, well within safety limits, and there is no evidence to link glyphosate to any health problem here.

Dr Parakrama Waidyanatha

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