The results are in from a panel of experts and consultants that Monsanto tapped to independently review the findings of a World Health Organization unit on the cancer risk posed by the herbicide glyphosate.
Monsanto asked the panel to review the WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) March findings on glyphosate, the key ingredient in Monsanto’s blockbuster pesticide Roundup, that concluded the chemical was “probably carcinogenic to humans.”
At the time of IARC’s report, Monsanto executives quickly fired back, questioning the science behind the findings and pointing out that IARC’s findings contradicted those of regulatory bodies around the world. In July, Monsanto hired Intertek Scientific & Regulatory Consultancy to put together the panel to review IARC’s findings.
On Monday, Monsanto said in a release that the 16-person panel found that “none of the results from a very large database, using different methodologies, provides evidence of, or a potential mechanism for, human carcinogenesis” from glyphosate. They also found some of IARC’s assessments “suffered from significant weaknesses,” including data choice, failure to use all relevant information and not using specific evaluation forms that weigh evidence.
The panel is comprised of industry consultants and academics, including from New York Medical College, University of London and Harvard Medical School. All but four out of the 16 panelists have previously consulted for Monsanto in some capacity, according to the company. Two are former Monsanto employees, who have published peer-review data on glyphosate while employed by the seed and biotech company.
Monsanto officials said Monday the panel worked for months reviewing IARC’s findings and relevant literature on glyphosate and met for two days in August at Intertek’s Ontario offices. The panelists then spent the following months drafting and revising their review for publication, according to Monsanto. The panel is presenting its findings during a session at the annual meeting of the Society for Risk Assessment.
Glyphosate, the most widely used pesticide in the U.S., has proven to be a key driver of Monsanto’s business over the two decades since Monsanto made commercially available seeds genetically modified to withstand the chemical. Monsanto currently faces price pressure from generic glyphosate makers, and in many parts of the country weeds have grown a tolerance for the chemical.
Even so, Monsanto’s agricultural productivity unit in 2015 was dominated by sales of glyphosate and reported net sales of $4.8 billion. The company’s seeds and traits, many of which contain genes making them resistant to glyphosate, made net sales of $10.2 billion.
Since IARC’s findings, a handful of lawsuits have been filed against Monsanto over cancer the plaintiffs allege were caused by handling Roundup products. In response to the IARC report, California’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment in September said it planned to list the chemical as a potential cancer-causing agent under the state’s law on safe drinking water and toxic substances. Meanwhile, the European Food Safety Authority in November announced it had found no link between glyphosate and cancer.