Originally published: Capitol Weekly
California is deciding whether to add a popular herbicide’s ingredient to the list of officially recognized cancer-causing compounds — a move that has run into a legal road block.
At issue is glyphosate, which for decades has been a prime compound in the Monsanto Company’s herbicide Roundup.
In March, the state Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment announced plans to recommend adding glyphosate to its list of substances included in warning labels, as required by voters under Proposition 65. These labels list compounds known to the state of California to cause cancer.
Glyphosate had been expected to be included, but that action may be contingent on the result of a lawsuit brought by Monsanto in 2015 to block the listing, according to OEHHA spokesman Sam Delson.
The lawsuit has put the brakes on the effort to list glyphosate as a carcinogen — at least for now.
Among those anxious for a listing is Harvey Makishima, the CEO of an advocacy group called Public Awareness for Preventative Health Care, which seeks to ban the substance statewide.
Monsanto’s suit to block the listing of glyphosate was dismissed by a Fresno County Superior Court judge earlier this year, Delson said.
“Monsanto has filed an appeal, and they have requested an order from the appellate court which would be a stay to block the listing,” he added. “We have said that we plan to list it, but we’re waiting on the court’s decision on the request for a stay.”
Delson said it was not clear when the court’s decision would be given, but that he expects a decision soon.
Makishima presented evidence to the OEHHA and the California Environmental Protection Agency at a March 28 meeting, hoping to convince them to ban glyphosate. He contends the chemical is a factor in cancers and autoimmune diseases.
Officials weren’t convinced that the substance could be linked directly to cancer, citing a need for further study which would require time and funding, according to Makishima.
Citing the potential that other environmental factors may play a role in the rise in autoimmune disorders and cancers, state officials declined to immediately pursue a glyphosate ban.
Makishima said he was concerned that the state has not yet banned a substance that is being considered as an addition to the state’s list of cancer-causing chemicals.
“What I was trying to do was bring them together, (OEHA and CalEPA), and (ask them to) convince the Department of Public Health that glyphosate is a public health threat,” Makishima said. “Because it obviously is, if it’s a carcinogen right?”
According to the EPA’s website glyphosate poses a low toxicity risk to humans and is only “slightly toxic to birds and is practically nontoxic to fish…,” although OEHHA in March found that glyphosate should be added to the list of cancer-causing chemicals.
In a letter to state Public Health Director Karen Smith, Makishima cited multiple studies indicating an increase in cancer and auto-immune diseases throughout California.
He noted a 2016 UC Davis study that showed a “thyroid cancer cluster” in Northern California. According to Makishima, “We reviewed the major crops from each of the counties and found that each of them involved with the thyroid cancer cluster also has large amounts of Roundup applied to their crops.”
Monsanto spokeswoman Charla Lord called the proposal to list glyphosate under Proposition 65 “flawed and baseless,” saying the listing would “(violate) the California and U.S. Constitutions.”
Lord in an emailed statement, said Monsanto would “fight the decision on the basis of sound science and law.” The company’s vice president of regulatory affairs, Phil Miller, was also quoted by the Reuters news agency saying that the classification of glyphosate “is not a sound basis for any regulatory action.”