Dar/Arusha. Authorities are looking to allay fears over the continued use of a popular weed killer that has been linked to cancer in the US.
Experts at the Tanzania Tropical Pesticides Research Institute (TPRI) are to conduct an investigation to prove or disapprove claims that the pesticide sold under the brand name Roundup may contain cancer-causing substances.
“We make a follow-up on reports linking its use with cancer. So far, we don’t have any such evidence on our table,” TPRI director general Margaret Mollel told The Citizen in an interview.
She said the herbicide would continue to be used in the country until there was credible scientific evidence to warrant a complete ban.
According to TPRI, demand for Roundup is high — accounting for more than 50 per cent of all pesticides used in Tanzania.
The herbicide was registered in the country over 20 years ago, and is commonly used by farmers to kill the so-called super weeds.
Dr Mollel, however, warned farmers across the country to use the herbicide cautiously. “Just like any other pesticide, Roundup is poisonous. Farmers should take all precautions like they do with all other pesticides,’’ she said.
Recent reports from the US said 70-year old Edwin Hardeman won a court case after alleging before the San Francisco Federal Court that Roundup caused him a form of cancer known as non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL).
Mr Hardeman alleged that his exposure to Roundup from 1986 caused him to develop the cancer that effects the body’s immune system. A federal jury awarded him $114 million (Sh262 billion), according to media reports.
Over 9,000 lawsuits have been filed across the US with similar claims against Monsanto, an American company which introduced the herbicide in the global market, reported the US-edition of the Guardian.
Mr Hardeman becomes the second person to have successfully brought a Roundup cancer case to trial, and the first in US federal court.
Reports say the verdict could set a precedent for future litigation and possible settlements.
Mr Hardeman’s suit has sent shock waves across countries where Roundup is widely used among farmers, with a farmers’ lobby in neighbouring Kenya protesting its continued use. The Daily Nation reported quoted the lobby as asking the government to ban the herbicide. Reports obtained from TPRI by The Citizen show there is no conclusive data linking glyphosate (the ingredients in Roundup) to the cancer-causing carcinogens.
One document shows that glyphosate can indeed be a skin irritant, but it rules out the possibility of its being a respiratory irritant and endocrine disrupter (hormonal disrupter). However, on carcinogenic risk, it reads, “Possibly, status not identified.”
Asked about what “status not identified” means, Dr Mollel said that TPRI was yet to carry out a study that would establish if indeed glyphosate bears cancer-causing substances.
“It actually means there is no conclusive evidence to link glyphosate with carcinogenic effects,’’ she said.
A weed expert, Mr Ramadhan Kilema, said farmers mostly used Roundup for weed control during farm preparations like slushing and tillage.
“Since it’s only used in farm preparations, there is no likelihood that the end-users of the crops could be exposed to the chemical substances from the herbicide,’’ he noted.
However, a report published online by a local organisation, www.kilimohai.org, says that glyphosate is “technically extremely difficult to measure in environmental samples”.
“[This]…means that data is often lacking on residue levels in food and the environment, and existent data may not be reliable,’’ says the report. “The long term risks of using roundup outweighs the benefits, therefore, farmers are advised to use other ecological friendly means of weed control.”