A safety review from 2016 by United Nations (UN) health, agriculture, and safety experts found that glyphosate, the active ingredient in the Monsanto herbicide Roundup, probably does not cause cancer.
The finding is in stark contrast to the World Health Organization’s (WHO) March 2015 declaration that glyphosate is “probably carcinogenic to humans.” The WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classified glyphosate as a Group 2A carcinogen.
But the UN group’s review of the chemical focused only on whether glyphosate is likely to cause cancer in people who eat it, not through inhalation or skin contact, which can occur through spraying crops.
Experts from the Joint Meeting of the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the WHO’s Panel of Experts on Pesticide Residues (JMPR) said glyphosate is “unlikely to pose a carcinogenic risk to humans from exposure through the diet.”
The joint WHO/FAO committee, upon reviewing scientific research, also concluded that glyphosate is unlikely to be genotoxic (i.e., destructive to cells’ genetic material) in humans. 
17 Scientists Speak Out: Monsanto’s Roundup is Likely Causing Cancer
Confused yet? First the WHO says glyphosate is carcinogenic, then it says it’s not? Well, according to the WHO, “IARC reviews published studies to identify potential cancer hazards, it does not estimate the level of risk to the population associated with exposure to the hazard.”
Wired added more insight into the differences between the 2 assessments:
“The IARC studies whether chemicals can cause cancer under any possible situation—realistic or not—while the joint meeting’s report looks at whether glyphosate can cause cancer in real-life conditions, like if you eat cereal every morning made from corn treated with glyphosate. One of these reports is, by design, much more relevant to your life than the other.
“The IARC is also, by design, not supposed to make recommendations to the public. It assesses ‘hazard,’ which in scientific jargon, means something very different than ‘risk.’ David Eastmond, a toxicologist at the University of California, Riverside, uses sharks to illustrate the difference. If you have people gawking at sharks swimming around a tank in an aquarium, the sharks are a hazard, but they pose little risk. If you have a surfer on the beach with a shark, now that shark is both a hazard and a risk.
“To the IARC, a shark has sharp teeth and powerful jaws, and the agency doesn’t care if you’re at the beach or at an aquarium. ‘The problem with using hazard is that it may bear no immediate relation to anything in the real world,’ says Geoffrey Kabat, a cancer epidemiologist at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine.”
Monsanto praised the findings of the new review in a statement, saying they were “not surprised by JMPR’s positive conclusion.”
Phil Miller, Monsanto’s vice president for global regulatory and government affairs, said:
“We welcome this rigorous assessment of glyphosate by another program of the WHO, which is further evidence that this important herbicide does not cause cancer. IARC’s classification was inappropriate and inconsistent with the science on glyphosate. Based on the overwhelming weight of evidence, the JMPR has reaffirmed the findings of regulatory agencies around the world that glyphosate is unlikely to pose a cancer risk.”
Debate Ended? Not Really.
Well, that ends the debate, right? You should stop wasting your money on organic food, yes?
“Not so fast,” says Greenpeace EU, which questions whether the FAO/JMPR assessment has been influenced by industry ties.
The group says in a news release to EcoWatch that at least 2 of the experts involved in the assessment, Alan Boobis and Angelo Moretto, have ties to the International Life Sciences Institute (ILSI) in Europe.
ILSI “receives a majority of its operating and research funding from private companies, including glyphosate producers Dow and Monsanto,” and that “ILSI’s Health and Environmental Sciences Institute (HESI) is primarily funded by private companies, including glyphosate producers Dow, Monsanto and Syngenta.”
“Alan Boobis is currently the Vice-President of ILSI Europe. He is the co-chair of the RISK21 project run by ILSI’s Health and Environmental Sciences Institute (HESI). Boobis has been an active member of ILSI over many years and also acted as a consultant for companies such as Sumitomo Chemical.
“Angelo Moretto is a member of the steering team of the RISK21 project. He is also a member of the HESI Board of Trustees. Moretto resigned from an EFSA panel on pesticides after reportedly failing to declare a financial interest related to the assessment of chemical substances.”
Additionally, according to the food-industry watchdog group U.S. Right to Know (USRTK), ILSI’s board of trustees includes executives from Monsanto, Syngenta, DuPont, Nestlé, and other major groups who would be damaged if glyphosate were deemed “carcinogenic.”
According to USRTK’s report:
“Internal ILSI documents, obtained by a state public records request, suggest that ILSI has been generously funded by the agrichemical industry. One document that appears to be ILSI’s 2012 major donor list shows total contributions of $2.4 million, with more than $500,000 each from CropLife International [an international agribusiness trade association] and from Monsanto.”
Not only that, but EcoWatch reports that USRTK noted that JMPR member Aldert Piersma, a senior scientist at the Netherlands’ National Institute for Public Health and the Environment, is an advisor to ILSI’s HESI projects.
In June, a joint letter was sent to the WHO urging the organization to “ensure that the panel is free from conflicts and other biases that may unduly influence the work of the panel.”
The letter was signed by a coalition of environmental and consumer groups – Natural Resources Defense Council, Friends of the Earth US, Friends of the Earth Europe, Center for Biological Diversity, Center for Food Safety, Pesticide Action Network of North America, Pesticide Action Network UK, Food & Water Watch, and Toxic Free North Carolina.
Glyphosate is a controversial subject here in the states as well – perhaps now more than ever.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is at the center of an investigation by U.S. lawmakers who want an explanation as to why the agency prematurely published – and then withdrew – documents relating to its review of glyphosate.
Among the documents was a report stating that glyphosate is not likely to cause cancer in humans. The papers were posted by the EPA on 29 April 2016 and taken down from a website the government agency manages on 2 May 2016.
According to the letter, the agriculture committee of the U.S. House of Representatives is looking into the EPA’s multi-year review of glyphosate and atrazine, another chemical widely used in agricultural herbicides.
The letter reads:
“We are troubled that EPA mistakenly posted and later removed documents related to assessments of two different chemicals within one week. These mistakes indicate systemic problems with EPA’s management of its chemical review and publication processes.
“We are concerned that EPA has continually delayed its review of glyphosate.”