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November 17, 2017

099 – Glyphosate and Human Health

The herbicide glyphosate has been used for over 40 years and is a relatively safe and effective method to control weeds on the farm, in municipal areas and around the home.  It has been approved for safe use by many countries and evaluations by multiple independent governments have declared it to have minimal risk when used as directed.  However, glyphosate is the compound used on some genetically engineered crops.  Activists have targeted this compound in an attempt to limit the use of genetically engineered crops, claiming that it is dangerous, even carcinogenic.  This, despite zero evidence indicating that it is carcinogenic, and no mechanism of action that would promote cancer.  Today’s podcast interviews pediatrician Dr. Dan Goldstein from the Monsanto Company.  Dr. Goldstein is a physician that works for the company, particularly in the area of health and safety associated with their products.

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11 Comments on 099 – Glyphosate and Human Health

  1. Great episode of an excellent podcast. Dr. Folta is really helping me in my ability to think critically about arguments made. In this episode, Dr. Folta explains his decision to invite scientists from the industry, despite the risk of creating a new attack vector.
    One comment/request for clarification: When discussing a topic that is so highly charged (as opposed to neutrinos 🙂 ) and associated with so much misinformation, one should try to eliminate as many qualifiers as possible. In this discussion, Dr. Goldstein uses the phrase “in the general population”. I don’t have the data or qualifications to analyze it if I did have it, but the use of the phrase could be construed to indicate that the use of glyphosate is actually dangerous to farmworkers. The explanation provided of how it works would indicate that is not the case. So, in this case, could the qualifier of “in the general population” be dropped? Or maybe the discussion could be expanded to detail its need?

    Thanks again.

    • Hi Nick, I love that you are thinking about it at this level, as we do have to be careful in our language– especially because we will always be taken out of context for malicious reasons.

      I think Dr. Goldstein is speaking honestly as a physician, a pediatrician. There are no risks from glyphosate in the general population. To make that claim about farm workers is a bit more difficult because while there is no evidence of harm (at least nothing strongly significant and reproducible), they have something that the general population does not— exposure.

      Risk is a function of hazard and exposure. We know that glyphosate poses extremely low hazard, and exposure is incredibly low. That’s been measured.

      In farm workers it might be a little different. I hope this helps, and thanks for helping me see that and think about it.

  2. Coming from the worst biology background and no knowledge of most things pharmacological. Strictly from a troubleshooting perspective would it not make it more difficult to follow the chemical pathway from ingestion to effect since there are no similar systems in humans as in plants? Is it a large assumption that there is no effect? Is toxicology not there yet?
    I think the effect is that once enough people go freerange-fresh-vegan in large numbers it effects large pools in social structure with the piercing opinions. When it comes from successful people the effect is greater. The snow balling happens, I think, when people fall in the trap of “maybe my friends are right but they can’t articulate it…”.
    ~Asking for a friend

      • Yes, that is annoying isn’t it? I had headphones on and could hear it in the monitor, it was taps on the table. We fixed that in the second half. Good catch.

    • The way you have to look at it is that there is no plausible mechanism of harm, and when examined in animal models there is no evidence of negative effects until extremely high doses (g/kg body weight). We know how it works.

      Your snowball hypothesis is right on. When people have lots of calories and disposable income, their sense of risk changes. Activists and food marketers know that, and by creating the false notion that there is risk where there is next to none, they can influence food choices.

  3. Dr. Folta,
    I am gathering citations for this type of research to read and share, do you have a few quality recommendations? Maybe a decent meta-analysis?

  4. Any comments on these developments?
    “Glyphosate has been found in Ben & Jerry’s ice cream samples from France, Germany, the Netherlands and the UK, according to a report by the Health Research Institute (HRI).
    EU nations have postponed a vote on whether to ban the continued use of the popular weed killer glyphosate amid concerns about its possible links to cancer. EU member nations decided not to vote on extending the weed killer’s license after the European Parliament backed a move to limit a license renewal to five years. The EU’s executive Commission had earlier proposed a license extension of ten years. The next meeting to make a decision will likely be on 6 November, officials said.”
    See: http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/glyphosate-weed-killer-cancer-fears-eu-ban-delay-a8020356.html
    And
    http://www.dw.com/en/eu-lawmakers-vote-to-ban-glyphosate-weed-killer-by-2022/a-41093018

    • Hi Tim, There is no reputable evidence that it is in ice cream. HRI is run by anti-GMO folks, and is hardly an independent source. While they have some technical capacity that probably is real, they don’t show enough data and controls and they don’t publish the work in actual journals (journals require proper controls, etc).

      Personally, I’d like to see the EU band the stuff. They can make a decision on politics rather than evidence and go back to atrazine, which is much worse for the environment. Higher costs for EU producers will be good for Africa, Canada, S. America and the USA sales to the EU.

      Will be fun to watch. Will be more fun to revisit in 20 years. There is absolutely no good evidence of a link to cancer, EU member state experts have shown that. Thanks! KEvin

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