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Reblogged:Roundup Pulled, but Might It Fight Cancer?

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Bayer, which recently acquired Monsanto -- and the enormous legal liabilities from its sales of Roundup to home gardeners in the U.S. -- recently decided to leave that part of the market to reduce its financial exposure. Fortunately, the highly effective herbicide will continue seeing use in the agricultural sector.

The decision has nothing to do with the well-established safety of glyphosate, its active ingredient:
Bayer's decision comes in response to the many lawsuits related to glyphosate that it inherited when it acquired Monsanto in 2018. Juries sided with the plaintiffs in three highly-watched trials before Bayer settled around 95,000 cases in 2020 to the tune of $10 billion. That settlement, which was one of the largest in U.S. history, allowed Bayer to continue to sell Roundup without any warnings. However, the company still faces further litigation, and said it decided to pull the product from residential use in order to prevent more. More than 90 percent of recent claims come from the residential home and garden market, AgWeb reported.

"This move is being made exclusively to manage litigation risk and not because of any safety concerns," the company said when it announced its decision. [links omitted]
The court decisions that necessitated this move are simply wrong on many levels, as anyone can learn by reading Kevin Folta's highly informative piece against the demonization of glyphosate at the Genetics Literacy Project (GLP).

Within, Folta nails the "merits" of these cases to the wall with aplomb:
Use all the evidence, not just what you like. (Image by Volodymyr Hryshchenko, via Unsplash, license.)
[J]uries and judges do not decide if a compound causes cancer. Such determinations are determined from a confluence of animal studies, epidemiological assessments, and careful identification of the precise molecular mechanisms that connect chemicals to cancers. Since its first registration with the EPA in 1974, glyphosate has been carefully scrutinized by dozens of international regulatory bodies and independent academic scientists (as well as the myriad of companies that sell it).
Immediately following this is a graphic listing on the order of two dozen major risk assessments, most since 2000, with conclusions ranging from glyphosate being about as carcinogenic "as bacon, salted fish, oral contraceptives, and wine" to "no cancer link."

Folta goes on to note a raft of consequences the people foolishly celebrating this move would do well to consider, and I recommend reading the whole piece.

But the frosting on that cake of irony comes from another piece from the GLP. Cameron English, of the American Council on Science and Health, notes in the form of the title of that piece: "Another study finds glyphosate herbicide kills tumor cells. Is the much-maligned weedkiller a cancer fighter?"

Note that English is hardly shouting from the rooftops that cancer has been cured, though. He carefully notes that these are preliminary results:
If Roundup or one of its ingredients turns out to be an effective cancer treatment, it would be a stunning twist in the midst of Bayer's ongoing legal battle. But that's not yet the appropriate conclusion to draw from this evidence. The four existing studies are very preliminary. Three of them, including the June 24 paper, are in-vitro or cell culture studies, which involve dousing cells in chemicals to see what happens, a notoriously unreliable way to measure real-world toxicity.
He ends his piece as follows:
The next time you see anybody claim that chemical X could cause or cure disease Y, make sure their argument isn't based on preliminary or incomplete in-vitro experiments. These kinds of studies can be informative, but they're usually the beginning of a meaningful scientific investigation -- not the end of it.
So, we don't know -- and can't from such studies -- that glyphosate cures cancer. (I would argue that, according to the vast weight of prior evidence, glyphosate is safe, as used in agriculture.)

And, more to English's real point, nor could the demonizers of that well-studied chemical conclude the opposite by cherry-picking similarly preliminary data.

English errs on the side of generosity towards the anti-glyphosate camp, but his point is well-taken for anyone who would defend biotechnology: Winning will take the kind of care opponents aren't showing. This is not only in our rational self-interest -- Who wants cancer? -- but it will also appeal to the thoughtful, intelligent folks whose opinions ultimately count the most in cultural battles like this. Care in reaching and arguing for one's conclusions will not go unnoticed.

Opponents of the use of glyphosate have done great harm with their victory. While it might be tempting for proponents of biotechnology to counter with sensationalism of our own, it will not truly be persuasive, and it could lead us to cause harm in much the same way: Acting in ignorance can cause great harm, not matter how good one's intentions.

That's a lesson this gardener will recall the next time he has to shop for an herbicide.

-- CAV

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