The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), a unit of the World Health Organization, apparently is on the road to classify every crop protection product on the market as a “possible” or “probable” carcinogen. It classified the extremely wide-use herbicide 2,4-D (2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid) as a possible carcinogen this week after classifying glyphosate herbicide (most common brand name being Roundup) as a probable carcinogen just weeks ago.
The reaction from within the U.S. agricultural industry was swift. Daren Coppock, president and CEO of the Agricultural Retailers Association, said such reports as this 2,4-D announcement is worrisome because it casts doubt about a “safe and effective pesticide.”
“Farmers use these proven tools to protect crops from weeds,” Coppock said. “They have passed through intense regulatory analysis and have been in use, in the case of 2,4-D, for more than 70 years.”
He continued, “Ag retailers understand consumers have questions about how their food is produced; unfortunately, IARC’s report only serves to cause confusion. IARC analysis does not actually identify whether a compound is a carcinogen. It should not be the basis to ban useful crop protection tools.”
CropLife America (CLA) issued a statement from Janet Collins, Ph.D., senior vice president of science and regulatory affairs for the association. She pointed out both U.S. and European regulatory agencies (the Environmental Protection Agency in the U.S.) put compounds through rigorous scrutiny. And the ability of a product to cause cancer is dependent on the dose and duration of the exposure.
“Regulatory assessment by governments of both the U.S. and the European Union (EU) confirm that 2,4-D does not present a carcinogenic risk to humans,” said Collins. “The IARC report contradicts established scientific consensus on this product and reaches inaccurate conclusions based on a flawed process. This process has led IARC to label many everyday items as possible carcinogens, such as coffee or pickled vegetables.”
Observations of how crop protection companies put together new product registration data packages shows the dose and length of exposure is always a major evaluation. It is known that many, many compounds in homes—natural or manmade—could be classified as possible carcinogenics based on the IARC evaluations. If someone took a bath in a herbicide daily for 60 years, it just might cause a problem, but that isn’t the exposure that anyone encounters.
“No regulatory agency in the world considers 2,4-D to be a carcinogen,” said Julie Goodman, Ph.D., an epidemiologist, board certified toxicologist and consultant to the 2,4-D Research Task Force. She was an observer throughout the IARC meeting in France, June 2-9. “This ranking does not mean that 2,4-D causes or is even likely to cause cancer in people,” she added.
In a statement released by the American Soybean Association and National Corn Growers Association, ASA Chairman Ray Gaesser and NCGA President Chip Bowling said, “While IARC may be fulfilling its narrow charge, its findings are easily misrepresented and misunderstood.” They criticized IARC for ignoring “the regulations and use patterns around herbicides that allow them to be implemented safely.”
Coppock reiterated, “Consumers should take care interpreting the IARC’s report as definitive. It is not representative of the body of science that shows these are safe products.”
Having a report about 2,4-D and the confusion being initiated about it comes at a time when Dow AgroSciences is introducing crops tolerant to 2,4-D postemergence applications, and as the company is beginning to sell a new formulation of 2,4-D in combination with glyphosate as Enlist Duo, all of which will increase the amount of 2,4-D used in the U.S.
Reuters news service quoted a Dow statement that said IARC’s classification is flawed and is “inconsistent with government findings in nearly 100 countries” that have affirmed the safety of 2,4-D when used as labeled.
Different scientists talk claim, counterclaim in terms of 2,4-D inducing or not inducing “oxidative stress” or showing evidence of 2,4-D causing “immunosuppression,” and all of this seems to open a door for environmentalists, organic purists and the average public to question why to believe any scientist. The public is more likely to ask if any of them really know anything definitively, especially when it comes to health matters.
And the question to be stirred up by activists naturally continues to be, “How does anyone truly know that genetically modified foods are completely safe?” If a herbicide has been on the market for 70 years and it is just now being classified as a possible carcinogenic, what will scientists discover about GMO foods 50 more years from now.
The IARC is doing a disservice to every scientist and the whole ag industry trying to feed the world.