Roundup and the Cancer risks to Farm Workers

By HSE East Africa | Thursday Aug 16, 2018

A California jury ordered chemical giant Monsanto to pay nearly $290 million Friday for failing to warn a dying groundskeeper that its weed killer Roundup might cause cancer.

Jurors unanimously found that Monsanto — which vowed to appeal — acted with "malice" and that its weed killers Roundup and the professional grade version Ranger Pro contributed "substantially" to Dewayne Johnson's terminal illness.

The lawsuit built on 2015 findings by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, part of the UN World Health Organization, which classified Roundup’s main ingredient glyphosate as a probable carcinogen. The agency reported that glyphosate had been detected in blood and urine of agricultural workers and warned farmers to be careful when using the herbicide or its generic alternatives.

In June of the same year, the organization also found an ingredient in a new herbicide developed by Dow Agro Sciences “possibly” causes cancer in humans. 

Locally about 30 generic versions of Roundup are some of the best-selling herbicides and most popular with farmers for their low cost and effectiveness. These are applied in tea and coffee plantations, beans, sugarcane, barley, and maize.

A study by Kenyatta University showed that the incidence of pesticide-related acute illness among vegetable farmers in Kenya had increased by over 70 per cent in a three year period to 2008. Although Kenya lacks adequate data specifically showing the health impact of farm chemicals on users, the National Cancer Control Strategy 2017-2022 promises to address the misuse of these chemicals as a cause of cancer. The strategy document indicates that the government in the next five years will promote farming and storage methods that reduce cancer risks such as safe use of chemical fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides. 

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