By Emily Wiest
Elm Staff Writer
Roundup, a general-use herbicide and weedkiller, has been experiencing controversy recently over its main chemical compound, glyphosate, being linked to cancer diagnoses.
The safety of glyphosate came into question following a recent jury verdict that came down against Monsanto, the company behind Roundup, for the role of glyphosate in a school groundskeeper’s non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma diagnosis. The company coughed up a court-ordered restitution of $289 million, on the grounds that Monsanto acted with malice in not adequately warning consumers of possible risks associated with glyphosate exposure.
While this seems damning for the chemical itself and companies who utilize it, the Food and Drug Administration and Environmental Protection Agency seem less concerned, noting that exposure levels are key considerations in assessing any threat glyphosate may have. The groundskeeper in question worked with exceptionally large quantities of the chemical, using a high concentration of the product dozens of times per year and having been doused with a substantial amount of it on two separate occasions. e Environmental Working Group, an activist organization, released a study recently that claims Cheerios and Quaker Oats, among other cereals, contain dangerous levels of the chemical as well. e FDA, in return, has stated that unlike the massive amount the groundskeeper handled, the traces of glyphosate found on food are insignificant. The EPA has determined that in such small dosages there is little reason to be concerned about health effects from the chemical.
The EWG, on the other hand, has taken the stance that the EPA’s standards are not strict enough, and has created its own threshold for glyphosate. Their standard is 10,000 times lower than the EPA’s, which many professionals are deeming excessive.
Not only does the EWG’s study have quite a bit of criticism coming at it from the scientific community, but the organization itself does as well. In a survey of 937 members of the Society of Toxicology, 79 percent stated that the EWG overstates the health risks associated with the chemicals on its radar. Often using scare tactics, the EWG uses emotionally charged language to dramatize their claims — for example, much of what they have to say about glyphosate is done in the context of children eating breakfast cereal, with pictures of kids across the webpage.
That being said, there may be something to their outlook — increasingly, humans are being exposed to far more chemicals in our daily lives, including in our food. While “chemical” shouldn’t immediately denote something harmful, it seems like there may be cause for some awareness of which ones we put into our bodies.
Whether or not glyphosate is a health issue in the amounts the majority of the population are exposed to, the fact that we consume a chemical connected to cancer at all should be a concern on some level. Weed killers and pesticides are incredibly helpful for farmers in growing crops, but do the health detriments outweigh those advantages?