Why the New Yorker’s Michael Specter is wrong about Monsanto and cancer

By Emily Cassidy

Only a die-hard defender of genetically modified crops could brush off a scientific finding that Monsanto’s powerful weed killer glyphosate probably causes cancer – and use Monsanto’s own research to do so.

But that’s exactly what New Yorker columnist Michael Specter did when he dismissed the findings of cancer experts at the World Health Organization.

After reviewing relevant research, including industry studies, a panel of 17 experts from 11 countries deemed glyphosate a “probable human carcinogen.”

But Specter saw no reason to worry

He wrote that “the data are, again, clear: after nearly forty years of use, no study has demonstrated a link between glyphosate and cancer in humans.”

The support for his claim? Incredibly, Specter cites a study whose lead author is David Saltmiras, Ph.D., a toxicologist whose biography, posted on GMOAnswers.com, a website sponsored by Monsanto and other biotechnology companies, is “Science Fellow and Toxicology Manager of the Novel Chemistry and Microbials Product platform at the Monsanto Company.”

Not surprisingly, this study, which aims to debunk independent scientific research linking glyphosate to disease, is posted prominently on the Monsanto website.

Independent research tells a completely different – and much darker — story.

Scientists at the International Agency for Research on Cancer, a branch of the World Health Organization, writing in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health last year, found a link between glyphosate and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in eight peer-reviewed independent studies. They concluded that exposure to this ubiquitous weed killer doubled the risk of developing the disease.

Why would Specter dismiss the risks posed by glyphosate?

We don’t know. We do know this: the use of glyphosate across the United States has exploded as more farmers have planted GMO corn and soybeans designed to survive blasts of the herbicide. America’s farmers applied more than 280 million pounds of glyphosate to cropland in 2012 – up from 16 million pounds in 1992.  It’s hard to find an American who has not been exposed to Monsanto’s popular, and, for the company, lucrative herbicide.

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