At least two agriculture interest groups are resigned to the notion the World Health Organization may declare 2,4-D as a cancer risk to humans during the herbicide’s current review, expected to conclude Tuesday in Lyon, France.
Pesticide industry and U.S. farm group observers are on hand for the WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer review. Interest is heightened following the IARC’s controversial conclusion in March that there is a “probable” link between glyphosate use in agriculture and human cancers.
National Corn Growers Association President Chip Bowling and American Soybean Association Chairman Ray Gaesser said in a joint statement they anticipate the IARC will reach a similar conclusion on 2,4-D.
Environmental groups and others have tried to make a connection between the use of 2,4-D today and Agent Orange during the Vietnam War. The component of that jungle herbicide mix connected to health issues of Vietnamese and U.S. soldiers was 2,4,5-T, not 2,4-D. Regulators banned 2,4,5-T decades ago.
Bowling and Gaesser said there is concern a similar finding on 2,4-D “will only lead to more confusion and concern” about that broadleaf herbicide, as well as about glyphosate.
“These two substances play an especially important role in corn and soybean farming as they allow us to manage weeds in a sustainable way,” the two farmers said in their statement.
“The IARC exists to review health and safety data to decide whether something could (not will or is even likely to) be carcinogenic. IARC creates confusion and unnecessary fear amongst (sic) the public by using narrowly-focused data removed from real-world situations to find almost everything that it reviews as potentially carcinogenic, including drinking coffee, using aloe vera, or working the late shift.
“IARC does not take the regulations and use patterns around herbicides that allow them to be implemented safely into consideration. While IARC may be fulfilling its narrow charge, its findings are easily misrepresented and misunderstood… These important herbicides — glyphosate, 2,4-D and others under review — have been the subject of hundreds of scientific studies and regulatory reviews. Government regulatory agencies charged with protection of public health in more than 100 countries have evaluated the science and concluded that 2,4-D and glyphosate do not increase health risks when used as directed.
“In fact, no government in the world considers them carcinogens... Farmers across the country work the land with their families and aim to pass it on to the next generation. We place a high value on the safety of the products we use and the crops we grow because we value the safety of both our families and yours.”
In a media backgrounder released earlier this week, the Industry Task Force on 2,4-D said the chemical “has been thoroughly and continually evaluated by health and safety regulators in 89 countries. Based on ongoing and continually updated scientific study, health and safety authorities — including U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Health Canada, the European Food Safety Authority and the World Health Organization — continue to find that 2,4-D meets modern safety standards.”
The task force said a 1996 USDA study concluded that if 2,4-D was no longer available to farmers, increased costs to fight weeds and potentially resulting higher food costs would total about $1.6 billion annually. The chemical has been used to control invasive and noxious weeds in agriculture since 1945. It and glyphosate are also among the most-used herbicides in residential and turfgrass situations, though the IARC and other criticisms are directed mostly at commercial agriculture.
New formulations of 2,4-D are the foundation of the latest genetically engineered corn and soybean crops aimed at combatting weeds that have evolved to be resistant to glyphosate. Those and similar seed-herbicide packages, which are just coming to market, have increased the debate over the safety of older, growth-regulator herbicides.
The IARC is not tasked with regulating pesticides and other chemicals, the task force backgrounder pointed out.
“The body responsible for conducting risk assessments of pesticides for regulatory purposes is the Joint FAO/WHO Meeting on Pesticide Residues,” the task force said in the backgrounder.
“The JMPR has been reviewing pesticides since 1963 and has reviewed 2,4-D five times using the most recent and updated data. Most recently, the JMPR has concluded that 2,4-D is not genotoxic and that there is no evidence of carcinogenicity. In this point, there is widespread agreement among health and safety regulators in 89 countries. Not one health and safety regulator in the world considers 2,4-D to be a carcinogen.”