It should come as no surprise to anybody with even a passing understanding of the state’s politics that California has decided to label glyphosate, the active ingredient in the world’s most widely used herbicide, as a known carcinogen. After all, what could be less progressive than the continued use of an allegedly cancer-causing chemical on our crops? That’s why this Monday, California’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) said the substance would be officially added to its schedule of carcinogens on July 7, essentially cautioning consumers against its use in a state that produces nearly all of America’s fruit and vegetables.
The move, known as Proposition 65, will likely delight the state’s liberal activists, who helped bring an initiative to label products that contain GMOs, made veganism the “new normal,” and brought gluten-free marijuana edibles into the mainstream. But in the context of major new revelations about the safety of glyphosate, the state should be making its policies based on science – not progressive ideologies.
For one thing, not only the EPA, but a whole slew of other domestic and international regulatory bodies – the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization, the European Food Safety Authority, and Japan’s Food Safety Commission, among others – have all performed regular reviews and consistently found that glyphosate is not carcinogenic. The only dissent against this chorus of agreement comes from the France-based International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), a semi-autonomous branch of the WHO, which deemed the herbicide “probably carcinogenic” in a controversial monograph published in 2015. Now, even that outlying decision has been debunked, following a scoop earlier this month by Reuters showing that during its assessment process, IARC had failed to take into account key data showing that there is no link between glyphosate and cancer.
However, none of this matters to a group of activist attorneys, led by the famed anti-vaccination crusader Robert Kennedy Jr., which has been mounting an attack on glyphosate on all fronts. The lawyers have been involved a number of litigation efforts, participating in a lawsuit brought by plaintiffs alleging that glyphosate causes non-Hodgkins lymphoma, weighing in on Proposition 65, and even trying to sway members of the European Parliament to change their minds about the safety of glyphosate. One of the firms is coordinating attorneys across the country, “all in an effort to…bypass an otherwise complicated MDL [multi-district litigation] process.”
The process was originally created to eliminate duplicative trials. Yet these lawyers have openly bragged about their efforts to circumvent the legal system and create a mini-MDL without triggering the full process. While they boast about acting as “vigilantes,” their behavior is more reminiscent of ambulance chasers. According to Berkeley Law’s Andrew Bradt, their strategy sidesteps the neutral adjudicator on the MDL panel. “This is forum shopping on steroids,” he said.
What’s more, these lawyers’ entire crusade is predicated on the now-debunked assessment by IARC, the one outlier in the debate. Which makes California’s decision to go ahead and label glyphosate carcinogenic all the more laughable. With no longer any proof that glyphosate causes cancer in humans, we can only assume that the OEHHA has passed Proposition 65 on purely ideological grounds. Where else in the world would a government department be able to designate a substance carcinogenic without possessing a single shred of evidence that this is actually the case? It would be comical if the potential consequences were not so grave.
First of all, labeling glyphosate carcinogenic would have a massive impact on the state’s agriculture industry. Since its introduction more than four decades ago, glyphosate has revolutionized farming practices, letting farmers control weeds more efficiently, safely, and affordably, while increasing productivity. With agriculture making up a major portion of the world’s fifth-largest economy, the new labeling rules would have severe ripple effects. California’s GDP derived from agriculture, forestry, and hunting totals more than $37.7 billion, far ahead of the runner-up, Iowa, at $12.1 billion. Industries with direct links to the agriculture sector also account for a major proportion of the state’s economy. Based on its direct value-added contribution, the food and beverage processing sector is the third-largest manufacturing sector in the state, accounting for $82 billion worth of value-added and almost 760,000 jobs. A recent report from Oxford Economics revealed that a glyphosate ban would cost farmers in the UK – the world’s sixth-biggest economy – almost £1 billion ($1.29 billion) per year. What would such a restriction mean in California?
Even more important than the economic aspects of the issue, though, is the basic question of what the new rules will mean for our nation’s food security. California produces more than 90% of the nation’s broccoli, 99% of artichokes, 99% of walnuts, 97% of kiwis, and 97% of plums. And the list goes on. This is largely due to the state’s climate and soil: there’s not one other that can meet California’s output per acre. So if California farmers were restricted from using glyphosate, the first place we’d see the effects would be on our dinner plates. Prices would shoot up, hurt consumers and we could even start to see food shortages.
All this could result from OEHHA’s foolhardy decision to rely on activist-driven liberal dogma instead of hard science in labeling glyphosate a carcinogen. Such tendencies might not matter when it comes to individual choices over whether to go vegan. But when it comes to statewide measures that could affect the entire nation’s food supplies, it’s downright reckless.