Position on recent claims arising in Argentina
In Europe, there has been a drive to use allegations originating from South American countries, particularly Argentina, to fuel concerns about glyphosate. Typically these are designed to elicit an emotional response through images and videos of people with recognizably serious illnesses and deformations. In reality, no clear link exists between the images and the use of agricultural chemicals. People suffering from these conditions can unfortunately be found in any country for many reasons.
Frequently the allegations arise from the region of Cordoba, Argentina (and Malvinas Argentinas, east of Cordoba itself) while others have come out of the Chaco region. The situation is highly complex. Multiple health allegations have been made on the basis of very limited data. It is important to realize that individuals in these regions have exposure to many different agricultural and non‐agricultural chemicals. Furthermore, they are confronted with known risks related to socio‐economic factors, diet, and limitations in health care screening and delivery.
iStockphoto.com/ Gabriel Durando Allegations relating to cancer - Cordoba
Allegations that cancer rates are 2‐4 times higher in the Cordoba region compared with the national average are not supported by data. This allegation, along with another regarding incidence of respiratory and thyroid disease, appears to relate to a study undertaken by students at the National University of Cordoba. The Dean of the Medical Faculty has stated that the University does not stand over this study or its conclusions.
The National Cancer Database does not support the theory purported by the study in relation to increased cancer rates. Glyphosate is not a carcinogen or mutagen. Attributing an increase of this kind to any single agent in multiple cancer types is highly implausible.
When looking at the data for specific cancer types by incidence or mortality, it is true that one can cherry‐pick examples of specific cancers that are higher in certain agricultural areas in the Cordoba area than in other regions of Argentina. However, one can also just as easily choose another comparative factor to demonstrate decreased rates of cancer.
Allegations relating to birth defects - Chaco Region
Based upon an extensive body of scientific evidence, glyphosate has been reviewed repeatedly by regulatory authorities around the world and has been deemed safe for intended uses. In no case has a regulatory agency determined that glyphosate is a reproductive toxin or teratogen (an agent or factor which causes malformation of an embryo).
Referenced birth defect data from Chaco does not suggest an association between glyphosate and birth defects. The data analysis carried out in this study is not reliable and has therefore resulted in misleading conclusions. The cited birth defect data relates to the number of cases reported by one particular hospital with an unknown referral base (no denominator). The number of reported defects varies widely from year to year.
The overall rate of serious birth defects in the population is cited by Dr. Trombotto as 2269/111,000, or approximately 2.7%. The rates for comparison populations are misquoted and should be 2.33% and 2.66% respectively, not significantly different from (and, in fact, lower than) the overall rate in the population.
The highest recorded value is 3.71% (not 37%). Early data indicate rates far below those normally expected, indicating significant under‐ascertainment of cases. Depending upon the years chosen for “before” and “after” comparison, the average rate per year can be made to appear to go up, down, or stay unchanged. The number of cases in a particular hospital each year is very small (0-2 cases), thus a very unstable estimator of rate.
For example in La Leonesa, a comparison of birth defect rates between 1990‐1999 (0.2 cases per year) with 2000‐2009 (0.6 cases per year) suggests a 3‐fold increase, but a comparison of 1996‐2003 (0.6 cases per year) with 2004‐2009 (0.6 cases per year) indicates a stable rate. In short, this claim depends entirely on an arbitrary choice of dates and, as noted above, is not supported by any reliable national or regional data.
There is no association between glyphosate and newborn renal failure. The latter is usually genetic (polycystic kidney) or obstructive. Claims of a relationship between glyphosate exposure and adult onset chronic kidney disease are entirely unsubstantiated and in any event are not relevant to congenital kidney abnormalities.
There have been claims that Professor Carrasco’s team’s work (Paganelli et al, 2010; Carrasco 2011) on frog embryos and chicken eggs is relevant to mammals, including humans. There is no evidence to support this extrapolation, nor that his work is relevant to exposures to glyphosate in real life scenarios. This work derives from direct application of the herbicide to frog embryos or injection into chicken eggs. If the hypothesis was a valid one, similar birth defects should be seen in mammalian test systems. However, this has been looked at repeatedly and there is no evidence to support glyphosate causing birth defects in mammals or humans.
What do toxicology studies tell us about glyphosate?
The members of the Glyphosate Task Force condone improper application of their products under any circumstances. The industry supports compliance with existing laws regarding pesticide application in Argentina. It is active in promoting best practices and working through the industry association, CASAFe, farmers’ groups and government initiatives.
Manufacturers of pesticides have set up a programme for collection and recycling of used containers, Agrolimpio. They actively promote against re-using pesticide containers for domestic or other purposes.
Last update: 22 December 2015