It's in your food - can this herbicide commonly used in SA give you cancer?

2018-08-14 07:11

A herbicide that is believed to cause cancer is widely in use in South Africa.

And, according to organic farmer Angus McIntosh, it can be found "in every loaf of bread sold in every shop in this country" and "in all processed foods, tinned foods and ready-made meals… consumed by most people every day".

a jury in the US found that it had caused terminal cancer and that its manufacturer, Monsanto, should pay damages amounting to $289m (about R4.173bn) to former school groundskeeper Dewayne Johnson, who is dying of non-Hodgkin lymphoma believed to have been caused by his exposure to the herbicide.

Reuters reported.

In March 2015, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), as the specialised cancer agency of the World Health Organisation (WHO), concluded that "there is limited evidence of possible carcinogenicity (causing cancer) associated with glyphosate, which could result in non-Hodgkin lymphoma in humans".

On Monday, The Independent in the UK reported that Roundup could be pulled from British shelves following the US ruling. 

A week ago, a court in Brazil suspended the use of products containing glyphosate in that country, Reuters reported.

'Most food is produced using glyphosate'

Using a boxing analogy, McIntosh told News24 "glyphosate is the Floyd Mayweather of herbicides".

wrote on his blog "glyphosate is sprayed on to all the grain crops that you eat or onto the food the animals that you eat, eat. Glyphosate bio-accumulates. Cooking does not kill glyphosate".

It's found in food bought at SA supermarkets

Research done by Barend Koortzen for his master's in human molecular biology at the University of the Free State last year, confirmed the presence of glyphosate in a variety of foods bought at South African supermarkets.

"Studies have detected levels of up to 2.2mg/kg in HT [herbicide-tolerant] maize and 26mg/kg in HT soybean.

'Glyphosate is not regulated'

Mariam Mayet, director at The African Centre for Biosafety (ACB), told News24 that glyphosate was unregulated in terms of how much of it was present in locally produced food and imported food.

The ACB approached the government in 2016 to ask that glyphosate to be banned.

"They said they couldn't because it had been given the thumbs up by the European Food Safety Authority.

"It's an issue that government doesn't seem to want to engage in in a meaningful way," Mayet said. 

Maize, in particular, is a staple food in South Africa. 

"Then it becomes an issue of residues in the food and the accumulation in the body."

multiple risks to the environment and ordinary people, said Mayet, who cited research by the ACB.

Deutche Welle (DW) last year, former researcher at the ACB, Hailee Swanby, said people who worked with the chemical often didn't wear safety gear and didn't understand the language that the instructions came in. Swanby told DW that she had seen people using their hands to mix it in open drums, storing herbicides in their kitchens and using empty containers to fetch water from the river.  

'It becomes highly toxic and causes cancer'

Professor Michael Herbst of the Cancer Association of South Africa (Cansa) told News24 that glyphosate was not toxic by itself.

"But as soon as you include glyphosate in a mixture [such as Roundup] it becomes highly toxic and it causes cancer – there is no doubt about it."

When approached for comment Monsanto SA issued the following response: "We are sympathetic to Mr Johnson and his family."

"The DAFF, however, takes the IARC's findings very seriously and will examine the data and assessment done for the IARC classification and determine whether any regulatory action is necessary."

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