Monsanto’s Roundup linked to liver disease, study says

Long-term exposure to the weed killer Roundup is reported to cause liver disease in rats. [Staffan Vilcans/Flickr]

A new study has found that low-dose and long-term exposure to Monsanto’s weed killer Roundup causes liver disease in female rats.

Monsanto reacted, saying that the study used “flawed data” from 2012.

The Roundup herbicide contains controversial ingredient glyphosate, which is now one of the world’s most popular weed killers. The use of glyphosate has triggered strong reactions in the EU amid fears the product is carcinogenic.

In late June, the European Commission decided to extend the authorisation licence for glyphosate by 18 months, until the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) gives an opinion on the substance. The ECHA’s opinion is expected in June or September this year.

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Liver disease

A new study published this week (9 January) in Scientific Reports found that low levels of exposure to the weed killer Roundup over an extended period causes liver disease in rats.

The study focused on Roundup and not glyphosate alone and stated that it was not possible “to attribute the toxicity of the whole agricultural herbicide formulation to a given component”.

“Future studies involving the administration of glyphosate alone would shed light on this issue,” the study concluded.

Female rats were administered with an extremely low dose of Roundup weed killer over a two-year period and found to suffer from non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). The dose selected was below what people are commonly exposed to in the everyday environment and 75,000 times below what is permitted by EU regulators.

For a two-year period, female rats were administered a dose of Roundup, approximately 75,000 times below what is permitted by EU regulators for human exposure, and were found to suffer from non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.

Researchers pointed out that it was the first time that a causative link between consumption of Roundup at a “real world” environmental dose and a serious disease condition was identified.

Dr. Michael Antoniou, an author of the study, stressed that the findings were “worrying” and called EU policy-makers to reconsider the safety evaluation of glyphosate-based herbicides.

According to Antoniou, fatty liver disease occurs in at least one in five of the general population, and in the vast majority of people with type 2 diabetes.

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“Bad science”

Monsanto reacted strongly to the findings, stating that the study used flawed data from 2012.

“[This data] was rejected by the wider scientific community due to a flawed scientific approach,” Monsanto said, highlighting that it was conducted by infamous researchers, including Robin Mesnage and Gilles-Eric Seralini, who have a history of using bad science to link Monsanto’s products to health issues.

“Similar past studies from these researchers were classified as ‘pseudoscience’ and lacking ethical conduct by the international science community,” the company added.

Génon K. Jensen, Executive Director of the Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL), commented:

“Glyphosate is already classified by IARC as a ‘probable carcinogen’ by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) of the World Health Organization. It is also described as a ‘potential endocrine disrupting chemical’ […] this new study adds to evidence about the likely harm to human health from Roundup and other glyphosate-based herbicides.”

“Given people’s unavoidable exposures from the massive increase in the use of these weed killers over the past 30 years, surely it is time to ban it on precautionary grounds?” he added.

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A vote on whether to extend EU-wide authorisation for the controversial weedkiller Glyphosate has exposed reluctance among member states to take a clear position on a defining issue for European agriculture.

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