Medical Journals: Monsanto Glyphosate in Pee, Bad for Health

New research in the prestigious medical journal JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association) reports on the startling evidence that glyphosate—the main ingredient in Monsanto’s weed-killer, Roundup—is not only getting into our bodies, but has been doing so at increasing levels for decades.

The paper, published today (JAMA October 24/31, 2017 Volume 318, Number 16) by medical experts from the University of California measured levels of glyphosate in the urine of one hundred people. The study subjects had been involved in a study since the 1970’s which allowed the researchers to go back and look at historical and current levels of glyphosate in urine over decades. And, the trend is rising, as glyphosate crop uses rise across the country!

Graph created with data from Mills et al 2017 JAMA Graph created with data from Mills et al 2017 JAMA

Unfortunately, it is difficult to know what these levels in our bodies mean for our health risks, since the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has failed to conduct a proper risk assessment for glyphosate that includes the aggregate of all our glyphosate exposures—as required by law—from food, drinking water, and residential uses of the herbicide. Even worse—federal agencies don’t even know how much glyphosate is in our food and drinking water because glyphosate has never been included in the federal pesticide residue testing program. This is completely outrageous given that it is used at approximately 300 billion pounds annually in U.S. agriculture, including on food crops like corn and soybeans. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has only recently started to test for residues of glyphosate in common foods, and only after tremendous public pressure.

However, even without knowing where all our exposures are coming from, having glyphosate flowing within and through our bodies on a regular basis is disturbing because it is a carcinogen. It was classified in 2015 by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) as “probably” carcinogenic to people (Group 2A), and since July of this year it has been listed in the State of California under Proposition 65 as Known to Cause Cancer in people.

Earlier this month the Lancet Commission on pollution and health issued a consensus statement identifying pollution from chemicals and pesticides  as the “largest environmental cause of disease and death in the world today, responsible for an estimated 9 million premature deaths” (Landrigan et al 2017). The paper devotes two paragraphs to glyphosate, highlighting cancer concerns: “Epidemiological studies of agricultural workers who were exposed occupationally to glyphosate and other herbicides have found evidence for increased occurrence of non-Hodgkin lymphoma in these people.”

Monsanto strongly denies the link to cancer and other health harms, instead blindly arguing that its highly profitable weed killer is “safe”. Monsanto also tried unsuccessfully to prevent California from listing glyphosate as a carcinogen. Thankfully, the court rejected Monsanto’s arguments. NRDC and others successfully intervened in the case, alongside California (March 2017).

Monsanto is also defending itself in Europe, where the European Parliament and citizens are fed up with the widespread use of this toxic herbicide. Today, the Parliament voted to back a full ban on glyphosate by 2022 with severe restrictions on its use effective immediately. Although the vote is not legally binding—the final decision will be made by a vote of EU Member States at the European Commission later this week—it signals the serious discontent across Europe with this dangerous herbicide.

How Monsanto and governments have hid the cancer evidence is detailed in a recent EU presentation by Dr. Chris Portier. A new book by investigative journalist Carey Gillam, titled “Whitewash: The Story of a Weed Killer, Cancer, and the Corruption of Science,” carefully documents the history of Monsanto misdeeds, regulatory capture, and adverse health and environmental impacts of skyrocketing glyphosate use.

NRDC will use these two new publications to strengthen our ongoing work to compel U.S. federal agencies to conduct more pesticide residue testing and adhere to a more transparent and scientific risk assessment process for pesticides including glyphosate.

Importantly, these publications in Lancet and JAMA may help convince growers to move away from the chemical altogether. After all, growers and agriculture community residents are the first line of exposure. Already, over 265 lawsuits have been filed against Monsanto by people alleging that exposure to Roundup herbicide caused them or their loved ones to develop non-Hodgkin lymphoma, and that Monsanto covered up the risks (see US RTK Monsanto Papers for details).

About the Authors

Jennifer Sass

Senior Scientist, Health program

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