Earlier this month, an aerial spraying contractor operating in the Willwood area had a mishap that sprayed herbicides outside targeted fields. Trees were damaged and at least one family experienced …
Earlier this month, an aerial spraying contractor operating in the Willwood area had a mishap that sprayed herbicides outside targeted fields. Trees were damaged and at least one family experienced temporary illnesses that may have been related to the glyphosate in the spray.
The incident brought home the debate on glyphosate, which has been getting a lot of attention lately. A California jury recently awarded a $289 million judgment against Bayer, the maker of the herbicide. Lawyers somehow convinced the jury it caused the plaintiff’s cancer. Bayer is appealing the decision.
It’s hard not to feel for victims of cancer, but there are several hundred studies concluding glyphosate is safe when it’s properly applied and does not cause cancer. Regulatory agencies, including the EPA and National Institutes of Health, have reviewed the scientific literature and concluded the same.
Even though all this research was peer reviewed, some people are skeptical because the company funded part of it. It shouldn’t be suspicious that a company would pay to test its own products, and while financial interests are worth considering in weighing the evidence of safety, those interests alone shouldn’t be cause to dismiss wholesale mountains of independently verified research.
Likewise, the financial interests of activist groups opposed to the use of glyphosate never get the same scrutiny.
Consider this lawsuit against Bayer. The plaintiff’s case rested primarily on a single study by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, which placed glyphosate in a classification of “probably carcinogenic to humans.” The organization gave the same classification to consuming red meat.
Depositions taken for the case revealed that the same week the IARC published this opinion on the herbicide, one of the study’s advisers signed a lucrative consulting contract with the law firms that were preparing to sue the chemical manufacturer. The contract required the consultant to keep the relationship secret. He also served as an expert witness in the trial and previously worked for the Environmental Defense Fund, an NGO pushing to ban glyphosate.
If a similar conflict of interest had involved a chemical company’s research, there’d be headlines about it all over the country. The media, however, have largely given glyphosate activists a pass on their financial relationships.
Many organic producers and retailers are involved in the anti-glyphosate campaign. Twenty such companies — including Stonyfield Farm, Clif Bar, and Ben & Jerry’s — signed a petition to get the EPA to place greater restrictions on the use of the herbicide.
Glyphosate kills weeds that choke out production crops, and this lowers labor costs and increases yields. As a result, foods produced with conventional farming are often cheaper than organic. Organic companies pushing to restrict or ban glyphosate will therefore benefit financially from such laws.
When weighing the evidence in this debate, people shouldn’t ignore activists’ financial interests in this fight. This doesn’t mean their position can be dismissed on that basis alone anymore than industry-funded research should be dismissed for the same reason.
It does mean ignoring evidence on glyphosate’s safety on a standard of objectivity not applied to the other side of the debate creates a lot of unreasonable bias and fear about herbicides.