Most of these claims about glyphosate, vaccines and cancer are misleading

4 July 2019
What was claimed

Glyphosate is in vaccines.

Our verdict

Tests by a campaign group and a research scientist/consultant claimed to have detected glyphosate in some vaccines in the US, but the reliability of these tests have been called into question.

What was claimed

Glyphosate causes cancer.

Our verdict

Evidence on whether glyphosate causes cancer seems contradictory. Cancer Research UK told us that there is some evidence that people exposed to very high levels of it could have a slightly increased risk of certain types of cancer.

What was claimed

Monsanto just lost in court.

Our verdict

Correct. US agricultural company Monsanto has lost three court cases in the last year linking the chemical glyphosate in its Roundup weed killer to cancer cases.

A post on Facebook claims “Monsanto just lost in court… glyphosate causes cancer, and it’s in vaccines”.

In the last year, US agricultural company Monsanto has lost three high profile court cases. Each linked the chemical glyphosate in Monsanto’s Roundup weed killer product to the cancer of four people who brought cases against the company.

Evidence on whether glyphosate causes cancer seems contradictory and Cancer Research UK told us that there is some evidence that people exposed to very high levels of it could have a small increased risk of certain types of cancer.

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What is Monsanto and what is glyphosate?

Monsanto is an American agriculture company which was bought last year by Bayer AG. Monsanto manufactures a number of different products, one of which is the herbicide brand Roundup. One of the main ingredients in most Roundup branded herbicides is glyphosate

Glyphosate is currently approved for use within the European Union until 2022.

Did Monsanto lose in court?

Monsanto has lost three court cases within the last year relating to glyphosate. In the most recent case the company was ordered to pay over $2 billion (£1.5 billion) to a couple, Alva and Alberta Pilliod, in May 2019, after a jury found it liable for the couple’s cancer.

This comes after a case in August 2018 which saw groundskeeper Dewayne Johnson awarded $289 million (since reduced to $78 million) and another in March 2019 when Monsanto was ordered to pay Edwin Hardeman $80 million.

Does glyphosate cause cancer?

The evidence on this seems contradictory. Experts have told us that there may be a risk to people exposed to very high levels of glyphosate, but most people in the UK would never be exposed to such high levels.

In 2015 the World Health Organisation’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) identified glyphosate as “probably carcinogenic to humans”. This was based on the limited number of cases of cases where people had been exposed to glyphosate and gone on to develop cancer, and from “sufficient” evidence based on animal experiments with “pure” glyphosate.

Classifying the chemical as “probably carcinogenic” doesn’t mean the IARC are saying anything about how likely you are to get cancer if you use the chemical.  It adds that “The probability of developing a cancer will depend on factors such as the type and extent of exposure and the strength of the effect of the agent.”

Since then the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority concluded that glyphosate “does not pose a carcinogenic risk to humans”, and the US Environmental Protection Agency said it is “not a carcinogen”, and a joint United Nations and World Health Organisation meeting concluded that “glyphosate is unlikely to pose a carcinogenic risk to humans from exposure through the diet”.  

Weilin Wu, Cancer Research UK’s Health Information Officer, said: “There is some evidence that people who are exposed to very high levels of glyphosate, for example through their job, may have a small increased risk of certain types of cancer. But most people in the UK will never be exposed to high levels of glyphosate and there’s no good evidence that there’s an increased risk for people exposed at low levels.”

Is glyphosate in vaccines?

The origin of this claim seems to originate with the anti-pesticide and GMO campaign group Moms Across America and a report it put out in 2016. It claimed it had found levels of glyphosate in five vaccines (between 0.1 and 3 parts per billion). It said that glyphosate could end up in vaccines because “GMO and glyphosate herbicide sprayed crops are ingredients of vaccines or are fed to livestock” (from which ingredients like gelatin are used in some vaccine manufacturing processes).

Anthony Samsel, who lists himself as a research scientists/consultant on LinkedIn, also published a paper   in 2017 with the results of his glyphosate tests on nineteen vaccines. He said he’d found that the glyphosate content of these was up to 3.7 parts per billion (though he said he hadn’t found it in all of them). 

At the time Monsanto responded to early trailing (for example this interview) of those results saying: “Nothing from Anthony Samsel’s results provides reliable evidence that glyphosate is present in vaccines.” It criticised the method used  saying it was a simple method with a potential to generate false positives and only works well with water—not other liquids such as vaccines.

Moms Across America says in its press release that the method it  used is “regarded by the scientific community as a screening method only and not as accurate as HPLC mass spectrometry”. Anthony Samsel used the same method in his study to test vaccines for glyphosate . 

Public Health England told us that it had been told by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency, the body that regulates all medicines and medical devices in the UK, that no reference to glyphosate or testing for it had ever been included in the information it routinely receives from manufacturers.

We’ve asked the US Food and Drug Administration for more information about this.

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