Monday, March 30, 2015

If A Product "Might" Cause Cancer - Would You Feed It To Your Kids While Waiting For More Definite Studies?

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Last week news broke that the United Nation’s World Health Organization (otherwise known as the WHO) was classifying a chemical called glyphosate, as  “ probably carcinogenic to humans”.

The reason we should all care about this particular finding is that glyphosate is the active ingredient in the Monsanto Company’s herbicide Roundup, which happens to be the  world’s most widely-used weed killer

Interestingly enough, 30 years ago the United State's EPA determined that Roundup could cause cancer.  Six years passed and, after reviewing more studies,  the EPA changed its mind and said Roundup did not cause cancer and was indeed safe.  

According to the New York Times, when determining what is or is not a carcinogen, the WHO and the EPA look for different things.  The WHO ” looks at a very narrow question: whether a substance or behavior might cause cancer under some circumstances, even if those circumstances are unlikely to occur. The agency classifies alcoholic beverages as human carcinogens, along with tobacco, arsenic and asbestos. .. Being a hairdresser is classified as probably cancer-causing, the same as glyphosate, because one job involves exposure to dyes.”  

The WHO report did not claim definitely that glyphosate causes cancer, but rather that multiple scientific studies have suggested a link.

THE BOTTOM LINE: Maybe its a good idea to avoid glyphosate
Personally, I rather be safe than sorry.   I prefer to not ingest a chemical, that “could potentially cause cancer,” if I can avoid it until it is absolutely cleared of any connection with cancer.  If you want to avoid glyphosate, read on. 

Glyphosate is the most widely used herbicide in the world.  It is commonly sprayed on farms,  forests, road sides and in gardens.   

Its main use is on crops such as corn and soybeans that are genetically modified to survive it (Monsanto’s Roundup Ready crops), and that account for most corn and soybeans grown in the US.

In California alone, the use of Roundup has increased  65% in the last 10 years:   About 20 percent of it went to almonds alone.

 It can also be found in a generic form and is thus used in many products besides the well known
herbicide Roundup. In fact, it is commonly used in parks and homes.

Make sure you know what, if anything, is being sprayed in your own backyard.  This might be the easiest way to reduce some exposure to this chemical.

Avoiding genetically modified foods is the next  best way to avoid glyphosate (more on that below) , however GM foods do not have to be labelled as such under US law, so this can prove quite tricky.  A couple of states, Vermont, Maine and Connecticut have passed local laws requiring mandatory labeling for foods that are genetically modified- but most states do not require labeling.

Unfortunately, according to the WHO report, the chemical has been detected in food, water and in the air after it has been sprayed.  

Glyphosate has already been banned in Ontario, Canada (for home use), Sri Lanka and it is about to be banned in Netherlands.   Brazil is considering banning the chemical because of its links to kidney disease among agricultural workers

At the end, the WHO is telling us that the chemical most likely can cause cancer.  It is not, however, addressing how likely a person is to get cancer from this chemical.  This is why more studies are needed to find out if the chemical can indeed cause cancer in real world situations.   In the meantime its your choice whether you want to take the findings seriously or not.

Monsanto, the world's largest seed company, said scientific data do not support the conclusions. 


As I mentioned, avoiding genetically modified foods is one of the best way to avoid glysophate.  Although buying certified organic food is currently the only way to really know you are not purchasing GM products, make sure is it officially labelled as such.  Another label you want to look out for is the 'Non GMO project Verified' label.   The folks at Healthy Child Healthy World published these tips to help avoid GMO’s 

Avoid high-risk ingredients like soy and corn. The vast majority of the soybeans and corn grown today are genetically modified. This puts food items like tofu, miso, tempeh, and soy sauce as well as corn tortillas, tamales, grits, polenta, and corn meal off limits. 
Find out what oil is used in the kitchen. Unless explicitly labeled, most corn, soybean, cottonseed, and canola oils are probably genetically modified. The same goes for generic “vegetable oil.” Try choosing a cuisine known for using olive oil, like Greek or Italian, or ask that your food be prepared without oil. 
Skip the soda. Most are sweetened with high-fructose corn syrup (see, corn is truly everywhere!) and diet drinks are typically sweetened with aspartame, an artificial sweetener that can be derived from GMOs.
Choose vegetarian foods. While (most) meat is not genetically engineered at this point in time, it was likely raised on GMO feed. Organic meat, however, can’t be fed GMOs. If you’re eating at a restaurant serving organic meat, you’re good to go.
Choose wild-caught salmon. While the FDA has not yet okayed GMO salmon for sale, it recently concluded that such fish is safe to eat and would have “no significant impact” on the environment. It’s widely believed that final approval will come very soon. These GMO salmon will contain a foreign gene that allows them to grow twice as fast as natural salmon, and labeling will not be required.

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