Washington, DC–(ENEWSPF)–July 20, 2015. In response to the recent cancer classification of glyphosate (Roundup) by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), the specialized cancer agency of the World Health Organization, an industry-based assessment has reached the opposite conclusion based on classified industry reports has concluded that Monsanto’s glyphosate is not carcinogenic. According to The Guardian, the assessment by the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessments (BfR) is based almost solely on industry science and classified industry reports. Three scientists on Germany’s scientific panel on pesticides work for the pesticide industry. Monsanto objected earlier this year, when IARC announced in a preliminary report that glyphosate is a probable human carcinogen based on laboratory animal studies. BfR and IARC’s findings have been released during a pivotal time, as a decision on whether to extend the license for glyphosate’s use in Europe is currently pending, and these studies are sure to be incorporated into the decision making process. According to The Guardian, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) is delaying the release of its opinion on glyphosate to take the full IARC report into account.
The Guardian reports that BfR’s research relied heavily on unpublished reports provided by the Glyphosate Task Force, an industry group that is dedicated to getting glyphosate relisted. Its website is managed by Monsanto UK. Based on these industry studies, BfR found that there was only limited evidence of carcinogenicity in mice exposed to glyphosate, and therefore concluded that it should be reapproved. Going even further, the industry body recommended that the acceptable daily intake be relaxed from its current 0.3 mg per kilogram of bodyweight per day, to 0.5 mg per kilogram. Both EFSA and the German regulatory agencies are refusing to disclose two key chronic toxicity studies that the decision was based on, citing them as confidential business information.
This recommendation for glyphosate’s reapproval and the subsequent relaxation of acceptable daily intake is especially egregious, seeing as it has been shown to have detrimental impacts on humans and the environment alike. In addition to IARC’s findings, previous studies have linked the toxic to non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and multiple myeloma. It is also a known endocrine disruptor, causes reproductive effects, kidney and liver damage, and is toxic to aquatic organisms. Ironically, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 1985 originally classified glyphosate as ‘possibly carcinogenic to humans’ based on tumors in laboratory animals, but changed its classification to evidence of non-carcinogenicity in human years later, most likely due to industry influence.
In fact, glyphosate is touted as a “low toxicity” chemical and “safer” than other chemicals bys. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has also contributed to its growth by deregulating crops, including the vast majority of corn and soybeans that are genetically engineered to be tolerant to the chemical. In recent years, weeds have exhibited resistance to glyphosate and its efficacy has been called into question. Additionally, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) routinely finds glyphosate in U.S. waterways especially in the Midwestern states and the Mississippi River valley. In certain countries in Europe, the pesticide is so overused that glyphosate can commonly be found in household food items like bread, The Guardian reports.
Unfortunately, it can be difficult to count on governmental agencies to properly enforce restrictions on toxic pesticides due to their close involvement with industry. A common phenomenon nicknamed the “revolving door” refers to the movement of personnel between roles as regulators and legislators and the industries that are affected by the regulations. The industry has a long history of utilizing this technique, which creates inappropriate relationships between large corporations and the government agencies that are tasked with enforcing regulations. As briefly mentioned above, Germany is charged by the European Union (EU) with the safety review of glyphosate: yet three scientists sitting on its scientific panel on pesticides are employees of BASF and Bayer, two major pesticides producers.
As stated to The Guardian, the environmental organization, Greenpeace, strongly believes that any reapproval of glyphosate would violate the EU’s precautionary principle, which aims to err on the side of caution and prohibit the use of toxic chemicals until all scientific data has been disclosed. Unlike the EU, EPA uses a human health risk assessment, which is a process used to estimate the nature and probability of adverse health effects in humans who may be exposed to chemicals in contaminated environmental areas. While EPA totes this assessment as necessary and crucial for decision-making about pesticides, Beyond Pesticides once again advocates for a regulatory approach that prohibits high hazard chemical use and requires alternative assessments. We suggest an approach that rejects uses and exposures deemed acceptable under risk assessment calculations, and instead focuses on safer alternatives that are proven effective, such as organic agriculture. By taking a more enlightened policy approach that eschews toxic pesticide use in favor of widely available alternative products and practices, EPA can promote a path to safer farming, a restored environment, and healthier communities.
All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.