WB01343_.gif (599 bytes)  Pesticide and Environmental Update

Is Roundup Killing More Than the Weeds?


  an article from The Sun (Malaysia),

Concerns Over Glyphosate Use
Monsanto and PAN are embroiled in a hot debate over safety of a widely-used
herbicide. S.Puvaneswary has both sides of the story.

A widely-used herbicide which accounts for 48% of the Malaysian market in
pesticides may not be safe to use. A recent study which shows clear links
between exposure to the herbicide glyphosate and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma
(NHL), a form of cancer that afflicts the lymphatic system, has caused
worldwide concern over the safety of the herbicide on humans. The study was
conducted by eminent oncologists Dr Lennart Hardell and Dr Mikael Eriksson of Sweden and published in the journal Cancer by the American Cancer Society on March 15.

It maintains that exposure to glyphosate "yielded increased risks for NHL".
"What these scientists unearthed is indicative of the long-term chronic
effects of pesticides", said Sarojeni V. Rengam, executive director,
Pesticide Action Network (PAN) Asia and the Pacific. "In this case, where
there are serious implications to human health, the precautionary principle
must apply," she said.

"We have to take precautions against using these dangerous chemicals." The
widely-used herbicide glyphosate indiscriminately kills off a wide variety of
weeds after application and is primarily used to control annual and perennial

PAN has called on the government to look at its regulatory standards on
glyphosate residues because if such monitoring is not immediately done, the
health of Malaysians would be at risk as glyphosate accounts for about 48% of
the Malaysian market in pesticides, according to AGROW Crop Protection
Report, 1996.

The Hardell study is the centre of a debate between Monsanto, which refutes
its findings, and PAN which upholds the study. The US firm manufactures
Roundup, a glyphosate herbicide.

The arguments and counter-arguments of both parties relating to the study
were sent to the SUN.

Monsanto's Argument:
Previous evaluations conducted by the US Environmental Protection Agency
(EPA) and the World Health Organization (WHO) suggest that glyphosate is not mutagenic or carcinogenic. WHO and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) have approved the safety of glyphosate residues in
genetically-engineered Roundup Ready soya beans.

PAN's Counter Argument:
The EPA and WHO evaluations were done more than five years ago and are based mainly on data submitted to them by Monsanto. These evaluations did conclude that "there is no evidence of mutagenicity or carcinogenicity" based on the available data, but they do not support definitive assertions that glyphosate "is not mutagenic or carcinogenic". (Nor did they look at the entire poison formula, contaminants and/or synergistic effects.)

Previous EPA and WHO evaluations which made similar claims for other
chemicals had to be revised as new evidence came to light. The establishment of the WHO's Acceptable Daily Intake (ADI) is based on limited studies using limited parameters which do not account for vulnerable groups such as children, the elderly, the sick and other groups that might have increased susceptibility to glyphosate exposure.

Monsanto's Argument:
Well-characterised scientific literature reviewing over 1,000 studies over
the last 25 years demonstrates that extraordinary safety of glyphosate, the
active ingredient of Roundup herbicide. (it is against the Federal Law to say
even the labeled use of any economic poison is "safe" - obviously this does
not apply to the poison producers.)

PAN's Counter Argument:
There are very few independent studies on glyphosate available in published
scientific literature and no responsible reviewer of health science
literature, health scientist, or toxicologist would claim "extraordinary
safety" for glyphosate. Data from independent sources indicate serious
concerns about glyphosate toxicity. In 1995, the National Poisons Centre
reported an increase of glyphosate poisonings in Malaysia. In the UK, it was
reported that glyphosate was the most frequent cause of complaints and
incidents from pesticides recorded by the Health and Safety Executive.

Monsanto's Argument:
The epidemiology study conducted by oncologists Hardell and Eriksson did not find statistically significant associations between NHL and reported cases of fungicides and herbicides. Reported use of glyphosate, along with reported
use of several other herbicides showed a weak, not statistically significant
association with NHL.

PAN's Counter Argument:
A weak association is an association nevertheless, and could be statistically
significant given that 211 million kg of glyphosate were used last year and
the volume is growing at an average of 20% per year. The Hardell study
observed a positive association between exposure to glyphosate and NHL, in
which, chance and bias could be ruled out with reasonable confidence.

Monsanto's Argument:
Exposure to glyphosate is not likely to be meaningful. Exposure opportunity
is almost exclusively through dermal contact. Glyphosate has shown very low
skin penetrability in experimental studies.

PAN's Counter Argument:
Scientific principles, particularly toxicokinetics, must apply. The exposed
person will be subjected to risks of adverse effects, known or unknown. Even
if the chemical has low vapor pressure, appreciable inhalation exposure can
occur since micro-droplets can form and particulates can be carried by
movement of air. Oral intake can also occur through contaminated food or
water. The fact that glyphosate is a systemic herbicide and persists in the
environment for a relatively long period of time (as long as 3 years in soil)
makes it likely to enter the body through residues (contamination) in food
and water. Residues are unlikely to be removed from plant tissues and use of glyphosate in animal  feed can result in residues in animal food products such as meat, milk and eggs. Residues are stable to up to one year in plant materials and water and up to two years in animal products in storage.

Finally PAN upholds the right of farmers, workers and consumers to be
informed, and to have access to all the information on poisons that they are
using, spraying, and possibly consuming.

In its statement to the SUN, PAN upholds the right of people to make informed
choices on what they may be exposed to, and whether they are willing to beexposed to these chemicals.

PAN Asia Pacific
P.O. Box 1170
10850 Penang
Tel.: 604-6570271
Fax.: 604-6577445