Written by: Sebastian Trucios (California Maritime Academy)
Edited by: Aimee Casey (Diablo Valley College)
Faculty Advisor: Nolan Higdon (California State University, East Bay)
Recent studies have uncovered potential toxins and carcinogens within the active and inactive ingredients of Monsanto’s Roundup® weed-killer. Corporate media outlets have intentionally downplayed studies confirming the risks associated with Roundup to satisfy corporate and political interests. The lack of investigative journalism and critical analysis jeopardizes the health of agriculture producers and consumers nationwide.
Following an announcement from the World Health Organization (WHO) in March of
2015, major agricultural company Monsanto faced lawsuits regarding the safety of active and inactive ingredients in Roundup® weed-killer. On March 20, 2015, the WHO ruled that the main ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup®, glyphosate, is “probably carcinogenic”. Subsequently, claims that glyphosate exposure resulting from Roundup® resulted in non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, among others cancers, led to multiple lawsuits against Monsanto. On May 17, 2016, independent news outlet, The Intercept, published “New Evidence About The Dangers Of Monsanto’s Roundup”. The article noted that further evidence had been published which argued that ingredients in Roundup® labeled as “inert ingredients” also posed health risks. One such “inert ingredient” included chemical polyethoxylated tallowamine (POEA). In 2014, Germany banned POEA following lung inflammation in a worker exposed to the chemical. In addition, the European Commission, the European Union’s executive body, made moves to ban POEA as well. In April 2016, the French national health and safety agency, ANSES, began to ban the combination of POEA and glyphosate. Increased scrutiny regarding the safety of the inactive ingredients’ stemmed from the company’s requirement to declare active ingredients, while inactive ingredients remain undeclared. Independent news outlets such as The Intercept, Infowars and Activist Post covered the developing story while corporate media outlets offered minimal and modulated coverage.
Glyphosate is one of the most widely used agricultural chemical of all time; its
toxicity alongside other ingredients in products such as Roundup® pose mutual risk to agriculture producers and consumers alike. As “the most heavily-used agricultural chemical in the history of the world,” glyphosate’s risks to humans requires critical analysis as its widespread use exposes farmers, who use glyphosate-based chemicals on their farms, as well as consumers, who purchase foods which may be affected by exposure to the pesticide. With recent evidence mounting against glyphosate’s safety, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has been planning to test food for glyphosate residue, however it has not placed any oversight on POEA as it is not officially an active ingredient. Overall, this chemical and chemicals used alongside it are so widely used that Monsanto’s choice to not openly disclose their potential risk puts more people at risk every day.
The corporate media committed News Abuse by downplaying glyphosates dangers as well as the failure to mention the “inactive ingredients” and the risks they also pose. On March 27, 2015, an article published by The New York Times framed the issue as a “he-said she-said” argument. The article opened by describing a 30-year-old ruling from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) stating that Roundup® may cause cancer and noted that the ruling was reversed in 1991 following a repetition of the original study. Using this reversal, the article repeatedly attempted to downplay the WHO announcement, stating “An agency of the [WHO] has declared that glyphosate … “probably” causes cancer in people. One piece of evidence the agency cites is [the study mentioned prior],” followed by the assertion that “the new controversy and the reversal by the E.P.A. decades ago demonstrate how the same data can be interpreted differently and how complicated and politically perilous such a decision can be”. The political peril was noted over the potential health hazards faced by agriculture producers and consumers. On June 29, 2016, an article published by CBS used similar rhetoric, citing a Monsanto chemist who stated: “I can tell you glyphosate is safe. The data that they look at, they cherry pick it and then they interpret the studies completely different than research who actually did it”. This “difference of interpretation” mostly originated from the choice of studies used in each analysis. Recounted by The Intercept, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) study reported that glyphosate is “unlikely” to cause cancer in humans and “included data from unpublished industry-submitted studies, which were cited with redacted footnotes”. This same study is referenced by The New York Times and The Huffington Post, and used to downplay glyphosate risk. Overall, the articles from corporate media outlets misrepresented the true potential for danger posed by glyphosate, and all failed to mention recent data suggesting that the “inert ingredients” pose a risk as well.
The corporate media seems to have covered this story based on party affiliation with
conservative outlets aggressively describing glyphosate’s risks while liberal outlets downplayed them. Monsanto made large contributions to the Hillary Clinton’s campaign; a partisan split in coverage would explain the differences in coverage by the mainstream media. In a 2011 study, The Pew Research Center found that The New York Times, The Huffington Post, and CBS maintained left-leaning bias while outlets such as Fox News leaned toward the right. This connection offers a possible explanation for why the left-leaning media outlets chose to downplay the risk of glyphosate because Monsanto would be favored under a Hillary presidency. In addition, Fox News covered the story with heavy focus on the plaintiffs in the lawsuits, and utilized heavy rhetoric against Monsanto’s practices as well as terrifying descriptions of farmers with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and other cancers due to exposure to this chemical.
All told, recent studies on ingredients within Monsanto’s Roundup® have indicated
potential risk for humans with mainstream media outlets intentionally downplaying the accuracies of studies and the risks posed because of the corporate and political interests tied to Monsanto. The issue requires discourse and action yet neither are possible with uniformed agricultural producers and consumers.
Sebastian Trucios, a Sophomore Marine Engineering Technology Student at California Maritime Academy.