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Experts: Monsanto's Roundup chemical unlikely to cause cancer in humans

An international panel of scientists reported this week that glyphosate, the main ingredient used in Monsanto's weed killer Roundup is unlikely to cause cancer in humans.

The committee that produced the report was formed by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and the World Health Organization (WHO). Its conclusion might seem confusing to some, as it comes a year after a group of experts from the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), a part of the WHO, classified the herbicide as a "probable carcinogen."

Research has suggested that the chemical could be linked to non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and similar diseases. 

Philippe Verger, secretary of the joint committee, said last year's report took a broad view of studies that suggest that glyphosate could cause cancer, regardless of exposure level. The report released this week just considered the risk of eating foods made from crops sprayed with the Roundup chemical. 

"We looked at all the studies in the perspective of the human consumer," he said. "It's not contradicting. It's just a normal process. Certainly, some media over interpreted the result provided by IARC and made very quickly the link between the IARC classification and the risk for human consumers."

The analysis conducted by the newer committee, however, did not look at the risk for people who handle Roundup, such as growers. Recently, a group of Nebraska farmers, all diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, filed a lawsuit against Monsanto alleging that the company had misled the public about the cancer risks associated with its weed killer product.

"Those are the people who are at greater risk for things that do cause disease, so pesticide applicators would have higher exposure, than the general public," said Anneclaire De Roos, an epidemiologist at Drexel University. 

Eli is the science and environment reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.

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