Skepticism

Monsanto Doesn’t Cause Cancer!

Sorta transcript:

People hate Monsanto, mostly because they’re a huge corporation that has a lot of power over our food supply, and that scares people. It especially scares people because Monsanto deals with genetically modified organisms (GMOs), which the average person doesn’t necessarily understand.

I happen to be in favor of genetic modification as it’s just a faster and more precise method of doing what humans have always done, which is breed plants and animals to be tastier and easier to eat. But even I hate Monsanto, because they’re a giant corporation that I think cares more about money than safety and education of the population, and their lobbyists will make sure they always get their way. While in general I think GMOs are safe, I don’t think it’s safe for an industry to have so much control over our politicians — especially when the industry is led by a corporation that was previously best known for creating and manufacturing a horrific chemical weapon that destroyed entire ecosystems and disabled a million people.

Despite that, I often defend Monsanto against people who launch spurious attacks about “frankenfoods,” aka GMOs. And now I have to do it again, because hundreds of people are suing Monsanto over claims that their pesticide, RoundUp (aka glysophate, which is no longer under patent), caused cancer. These lawsuits are based on the findings of a World Health Organization group called the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), who performed a meta-analysis and determined that RoundUp was a probable carcinogen in 2015.

The problem that was recently revealed by Reuters is that one of the scientists on that panel, Aaron Blair, actually withheld a large, well-done study that showed it was highly improbable that RoundUp was carcinogenic. The weirdest part? Blair was a lead author on the study he withheld, so it’s not like he didn’t know about it or thought it was poorly done. Blair admitted that if the study had been included in IARC’s analysis, they wouldn’t have branded RoundUp as a carcinogen.

IARC says that the study couldn’t be included because it hadn’t completed publication at the time of their recommendation, but that’s ridiculous — the study was done and only had to undergo peer review. Their panel is exactly the kind of peers who would be reviewing it, so all they had to do was take into consideration that it wasn’t peer-reviewed yet so they would have to go through the data with a more critical eye. If they had done that, they could have made a more accurate recommendation and saved a hell of a lot of trouble for the court systems now dealing with spurious lawsuits.

They’d also probably save a lot of pain for the people bringing these lawsuits. Cancer is complicated, and scary as hell, and so it doesn’t help to confuse people by giving them a convenient “bad guy” to blame. They may feel better in the immediate present, but at the end of the day they won’t know the cause of their cancer and they’ll have been dragged through a strenuous court process while fighting serious health problems.

Amazingly, the IARC says they have no plans to reconsider their designation. Meanwhile, glysophate is the most common herbicide in the world. The EU is deciding at the end of this year whether to continue to allow it. Let’s hope they don’t abide by the official designation offered by the normally trustworthy World Health Organization.

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca leads a team of skeptical female activists at Skepchick.org. She travels around the world delivering entertaining talks on science, atheism, feminism, and skepticism. There is currently an asteroid orbiting the sun with her name on it. You can follow her every fascinating move on Twitter or on Google+.

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