The Roundup problem: Why it’s so hard to pinpoint what causes cancer

Fortune Magazine | .

Thirty years ago the Environmental Protection Agency warned that glyphosate–the world’s most widely-used herbicide by volume and the active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup–might cause cancer. The EPA never outright banned or limited its use, though, and six years later, in 1991, it reversed that decision and declared it safe based on a lack of “convincing carcinogenicity evidence.”

Today, glyphosate generates nearly $6 billion a year in revenue for Monsanto MON and other, generic manufacturers, according to Transparency Market Research. But its potential for harm is back in the spotlight after the International Agency for Research on Cancer, the branch of the World Health Organization that specializes in cancer research, declared in March that it “probably” causes cancer.

This puts glyphosate in the same category as Alar, red dye no. 2 and saccharin — all chemicals that have at one point or another been connected to cancer, but ultimately inconclusively. Some, like red dye no. 2, were banned altogether while others, like saccharin, are still widely used.

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