An international group with ties to the World Health Organization recently said glyphosate might be a cancer-causing carcinogen, despite years of research that says the herbicide isn’t. The incident is another needless stumbling block placed in the consumers’ path to honestly understand the modern food supply and unnecessarily erodes their confidence in it.
The International Agency for Research on Cancer, the cancer wing of the WHO, says glyphosate should be “classified as probably carcinogenic to humans,” according to a New York Times article and many other articles covering the statement this week.
I was surprised to see the IARC’s standard classification system, or carcinogen warning, riddled with “probablies” and “possibles,” all pretty ambiguous statements.
Regarding the IARC stance, Chip Bowling, president of the National Corn Growers Association, says, “The movement to reclassify glyphosate as a class 2A probable carcinogen ignores the findings of more than four decades of credible scientific research. In doing so, this decision creates unnecessary fear and confusion over the proven safety record of this important agricultural tool.”
I agree with Bowling. The IARC statement and its pursuing media coverage (and, yes, this blog would qualify as media coverage) further diminishes consumer confidence in their food supply at a time when consumers want, and even demand, to know from where their food derives and how it is produced. A Google search March 25 showed more than 200 articles and opinion pieces relating to the IARC’s stance on glyphosate, with coverage from most all major news outlets around the world.
There is a growing divide in the United States on the future path of our food supply, and it started more than a century ago when the majority of our citizens began to migrate to urban areas and left the rural, food-producing parts of the country. Advancements in agriculture technology and practices allowed fewer and fewer people to make more and more food for more and more people, which supported this migration.
And for generations, U.S. citizens seemed to forget about, or not worry about, their food supply. As long as their bellies were full, they lived and made other amazing advancements for the country and world that only urban living can nurture. And that’s good.
But recent generations have newfound interest in food and where and how food gets made, largely due to the popularity of 24-hour food channels. And that interest is welcomed. But being many generations removed from production agriculture has distorted their vision. They want to look back and see a man standing in overalls with a straw hat atop a sunburned face and a twig hanging out of a grinning mouth. (And I can point them in the direction of a few guys who still look like that.)
But what they see now is much different, and doesn’t meet their idealistic visions. When they look back to the farm now, they see modern agriculture, and they grow confused, which can lead to misplaced animosity.
In the last decade, the agriculture industry has done much to foster conversations with consumers, introducing them to the modern faces of farming. Mutual understanding and respect is progressing, and many more consumers now understand in order to feed a growing world population, modern farmers need modern farming tools to produce more food.
It isn’t yet clear why IARC took its most-recent stance on glyphosate when other WHO bodies and regulatory agencies say the herbicide is OK. What or whose agenda it supports, I do not know. I do know the IARC decision is an obstruction to consumers’ understanding and appreciation of modern agriculture.