In an unprecedented move, the California Environmental Protection Agency (Cal/EPA) will soon start labeling the common herbicide ingredient glyphosate a "probable carcinogenic," stepping up efforts to protect health and wildlife in the agriculture-heavy state even as use of weedkillers that include such toxins hits an all-time high.
Under Proposition 65, California is required to publish a list of chemicals known to cause cancer or birth defects. Glyphosate—favored ingredient of agrochemical producers like Monsanto and Dow—was declared "probably carcinogenic to humans" in March by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), a body of the World Health Organization.
"California's taking an important step toward protecting people and wildlife from this toxic pesticide," said Dr. Nathan Donley, staff scientist with the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD). "More than 250 million pounds of glyphosate are used each year in the United States, and the science is clear that it’s a threat to public health and countless wildlife species. It’s long past time to start reining in the out-of-control use of glyphosate in the United States."
In an email to EcoWatch, Donley added that California appears to be the first state to take such measures against the chemical. "As far as I'm aware, this is the first regulatory agency in the U.S. to determine that glyphosate is a carcinogen," he wrote. "So this is a very big deal."
Giving a chemical 'Prop 65' designation does not prevent sale or use of the substance, and glyphosate will only join the list after a 30-day period of public comment. Still, the news was received warmly by environmental advocates, who say it's important for California to acknowledge the IARC's findings and respond accordingly.
Rebecca Spector, west coast director at Center for Food Safety, told EcoWatch, "Since The World Health Organization’s research arm recently declared glyphosate is probably carcinogenic to humans, listing it under Prop 65 and requiring it to be labeled as such is a logical next step."
According to CBD, use of glyphosate is at an all-time high. "Its use increased more than 20-fold, from 10 million pounds in 1990, largely due to the widespread adoption of crops, particularly corn and soy, that are genetically engineered to withstand what would otherwise be fatal doses of glyphosate," the center wrote in a statement. Recent studies have also linked its widespread usage to declining populations of Monarch butterflies and has even been found in the blood and urine of agricultural workers.
France announced in June that it would cease over-the-counter sales of Roundup over its carcinogenic concerns.
Donley said Friday, "The spike in usage of glyphosate is really concerning because more use equals more exposure. It's nearly impossible for people to limit exposure to this toxin because it is just so widespread. That’s why we need much tighter controls on its use."