Counter claim on conflict of interest in glyphosate research

Debate around the reapproval of the herbicide glyphosate is reaching fever pitch as time runs out before the chemical's registration ends.

An EU vote on whether or not to reapprove glyphosate was delayed on 19 May amid fierce campaigning by pro and anti-glyphosate groups, who are debating whether the weedkiller is carcinogenic or not.

A UN panel that on 17 May ruled that glyphosate was non-carcinogenic was co-run by the chairman of the UN’s joint meeting on pesticide residues (JMPR) and received a six-figure donation from Monsanto, which makes the glyphosate-based Roundup weedkiller.

Professor Alan Boobis, who chaired the UN's joint FAO/WHO meeting on glyphosate which made the statement that glyphosate was non-carcinogenic, also works as the vice-president of the International Life Science Institute (ILSI) Europe. The co-chair of the sessions was Professor Angelo Moretto, a board member of ILSI’s Health and Environmental Services Institute.

Last November 96 scientists wrote a letter to a senior EU official urging him to ignore what they said was a "flawed" EFSA assessment of glyphosate and to prefer IARC's judgment instead.

The letter was led by the American scientist Chris Portier, who it has emerged has worked part-time since 2013 with the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), a US non-governmental campaign group dedicated to "preserving natural systems" and as such Portier's EDF connections could be a conflict of interest. Portier's IARC work, which found glyphosate to be "probably carcinogenic" should have disqualified him from being involved in the glyphosate evaluation, say pro-glyphosate campaigners.

Asked by Reuters whether he had a conflict of interest, Portier said: "I agree that this has the appearance of being a conflict of interest. However, in my opinion, for this to be a real conflict of interest, I would have to be working for the EDF on pesticide related issues and/or specifically on glyphosate related issues. I am not."

The EU could be set to meet again to discuss re-registration of glyphosate on 24-25 May. The current licence expires at the end of June.

Experts from the EU's 28 nations had been due to vote on a proposal to extend by nine years licensing of the herbicide, but did not vote as no overall majority was likely to have been reached.

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