Latest research justifies keeping glyphosate’s current EU status as damaging to eyes and aquatic life but not its identification as carcinogenic, mutagenic or toxic to reproduction and organs, scientists at the agency’s risk assessment committee (RAC) said on Wednesday.
The finding mirrors conclusions from the European Food Safety Authority in November 2015, directly contradicting the "probable" link UN cancer scientists warned about earlier that year.
Pending an editorial check, the European Commission is set to receive the RAC conclusions before the summer break as it prepares to decide, within the following six months, whether to approve glyphosate beyond the 18-month extension it granted last June.
At an online briefing, ECHA scientific officer Ari Karjalainen explained that even though evidence of cancer was found among rats and mice, it was not consistent across studies and "only slightly" above normal levels.
Jack de Bruijn, ECHA’s director of risk management, said that no "specific lobbying" had taken place to influence RAC’s work on the glyphosate file. The statement comes days after ECHA was drawn into an exchange about potential conflicts of interest by Greenpeace campaigners.
On Wednesday, the NGO accused RAC of burying evidence that glyphosate is a carcinogen "under the carpet" even if it was backed by two separate studies.
By contrast, pesticide industry association ECPA said science had prevailed. "We expect the Commission to move swiftly and grant the 15-year approval that was suggested before glyphosate became subject of a political and emotional debate," ECPA spokesperson Graeme Taylor commented.
While RAC’s opinion could be reconsidered based on fresh findings, the prospect is "unlikely" and would require a "large shift of evidence", said committee chair Tim Bowmer.
National political support for glyphosate has waned in recent months, with Portugal, Italy, France and Sweden all passing restrictions of some kind.