Weedkiller still available, despite cancer links

Photo: Seven year old twins, Antonia (left) and Iliana (right) eating cereal at home. Their mother, Vivian Papadima, is concerned about what goes into their food. Picture: Sofia Vamvakidou

By SOFIA VAMVAKIDOU

A popular weedkiller linked to cancer is still being sold in Australia despite a $289 million lawsuit being awarded against agribusiness giant Monsanto in the US in August.

US research has also found significant levels of glyphosate, the broad-spectrum herbicide at the centre of the lawsuit, in an array of breakfast cereals marketed at children.

Monsanto was back in court this week asking it to throw out the jury decision and grant a new trial. The court will give its decision next week. The company is facing about 8000 similar lawsuits. 

Melbourne woman Mary Pavlides, whose two rare types of lymphoma were directly linked to herbicides when she was diagnosed in 2009, said she could not understand how Monsato was still allowed to sell its without more stringent safety measures.

“I was given five days to live. That’s how aggressive my lymphomas were. I was in shock,” she said.

Ms Pavlidis had been using Roundup for 25 years and had been following the safety instructions on the bottle. She said that she did not know anything about the active ingredients of Roundup nor of its potential health risks at the time.

“Why is there not something on Roundup to warn of the risks like there is on cigarette packs to warn for cancer?” she said.

“You would think that to highlight it, they would perhaps supply some masks or gloves. That really would bring it to people’s attention rather than just the fine print and truly the fine print is so fine these days that you can barely read it.”

Video by Grace McKinnon Leyton.

The main issue with Roundup is its active ingredient, glyphosate, which is a broad-spectrum herbicide that works by inhibiting an enzyme found in plants. The compound has been under scrutiny for many years and recent studies have shone more light into its potential health risks.

Research by the Environmental Working Group’s Children’s Heath Initiative found significant levels of glyphosate in 43 of 45 samples of products made with conventionally grown oats – most of them at levels higher than is considered adequately safe for children. 

Another recent study found that glyphosate-based herbicides, including Roundup, contain toxic levels of heavy metals including arsenic.

Earlier in August, a Brazil court suspended the registration of glyphosate until Anvisa (the Brazilian Health Regulatory Agency) completes a toxicological re-evaluation.

Days after the Brazilian ruling, the California Supreme Court found Monsanto liable to pay $289 million in damages to a man who alleged the company’s glyphosate-based herbicides caused his cancer.

In 2015, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), an organisation affiliated with the World Health Organisation (WHO), classified the herbicide as “probably carcinogenic to humans”.

Mother of two Vivian Papadima says that she was angry to find out that traces of these compounds could be present in Australian foods, and had lost faith in government authorities.

“It is their responsibility to conduct research to ensure that this is not the case in Australia as well. If it is, the government is obliged to do something to eliminate these ingredients from foods that we give to our children,” she said.

Monsanto’s glyphosate-based herbicide, Roundup (photo sourced from google).

In 2017, five countries banned the use of glyphosate. Malta, Sri Lanka, Belgium, The Netherlands and Argentina prohibited the herbicide following the lawsuits in the US and the release of research linking glyphosate with cancer, spontaneous abortions, birth defects, skin diseases, respiratory illness and neurological disease.

Glyphosate has been registered for use in Australia for more than 40 years and there are around 500 products currently in the market with it as their active ingredient.

The current assessment by the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA) is that products containing glyphosate are safe to use as per label instructions in Australia.