Farmers and the crop protection industry have questioned a study which claims the herbicide glyphosate could cause cancer in humans.
The report, published by the World Health Organisation’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) said the chemical, which is the main ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup, was ’probably carcinogenic to humans’.
The Soil Association said Government testing showed Roundup to be one of the three most common pesticides found in British bread and called for a ban on its use on UK wheat.
Soil Association policy director Peter Melchett said pre-harvest spraying increased the likelihood of the chemical entering the food chain, especially when moisture content was high and it was absorbed by seeds.
He added: “If glyphosate ends up in bread it’s impossible for people to avoid it, unless they are eating organic.
“On the other hand, farmers could easily choose not to use glyphosate as a spray on wheat crops – just before they are harvested. This is why the Soil Association is calling for the immediate ending of the use of Glyphosate sprays on wheat destined for use in bread.”
It comes after studies by GM Freeze and Friends of the Earth found glyphosate to be present in human urine and breast milk.
Prof Christopher Portier, one of the co-authors of the report, told a press briefing in London this week ‘glyphosate is definitely genotoxic’.
Dr Robb Fraley, Monsanto’s chief technology officer, criticised the report, saying it ‘cherry-picked’ data and was a ‘clear example of agenda-driven bias’.
He said: “Glyphosate is not a carcinogen. When it comes to glyphosate, regulatory agencies have been clear for decades all labelled uses of glyphosate are safe for human health.
“In fact, the US Environmental Protection Agency [EPA] classified glyphosate in its lowest category for carcinogenicity. In 2013, the EPA again noted glyphosate ‘does not pose a cancer risk to humans’.”
Dr Fraley added IARC was not a regulatory agency and therefore did not look at real-world risk, use or exposure.
Chief executive of the Crop Protection Association Nick Von Westenholz said he was disappointed to see ‘pressure groups misrepresenting the science in using this classification to promote their own agenda’.
He said: “Let’s not forget IARC has made similar assessments of items such as coffee, mobile phones, pickled vegetables and aloe vera – products we are quite capable of using in our day-to-day lives while managing any risk. Crop protection products are no different.”
Mr Von Westenholz said regulatory action against the herbicide, based on the IARC’s hazard identification, would therefore be ‘unfounded’.
Farmer and former NFU combinable crops board chairman Andrew Watts said if glyphosates were banned, growers would ‘need something else in the toolbox to control weeds’.
He said the NFU had reminded farmers of best practice guidelines after the wet 2012 season.
Use of glyphosate in cereal crops