Industry bodies welcome European Chemicals Agency decision that glyphosate is not carcinogenic

Industry and science bodies have welcomed EU body the European Chemicals Agency's (ECHA's) decision, which says the scientific evidence 'did not meet the criteria to classify glyphosate as a carcinogen, as a mutagen or as toxic for reproduction'.

ECHA's Committee for Risk Assessment (RAC) agreed to maintain the current harmonised classification of glyphosate as a substance causing serious eye damage and being toxic to aquatic life with long-lasting effects. RAC concluded that the available scientific evidence did not meet the criteria to classify glyphosate as a carcinogen, as a mutagen or as toxic for reproduction.

NFU vice president Guy Smith said: "We welcome the classification of glyphosate by the ECHA which reinforces its safety.

"The overwhelming weight of evidence shows that glyphosate poses no risk to human health when used correctly. This opinion is shared by regulatory bodies around the world, including the World Health Organisation, the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the UN and the European Food Safety Authority.

"Glyphosate plays a vital role in agriculture in the UK and around the world. It reduces the need to use other herbicides, it helps to protect soil and cut greenhouse gas emissions by reducing the need for ploughing, and it enables farmers in this country to grow crops that help produce safe, affordable, high quality British food.

"Now ECHA has released its classification there can be no reason why glyphosate should not be reauthorised for a further 15 years when the European Commission makes its decision on a proposal later this year. We will continue to work with our members and with other European farming unions to ensure the facts about glyphosate’s safety and importance are heard in the run-up to that decision."

A Campaign For Accuracy In Public Health Research spokesperson said: "ECHA’s confirmation that glyphosate is not a carcinogen underscores the serious flaws in IARC’s evaluation of carcinogens. IARC consistently fails to base its reviews on a full consideration of the available scientific evidence, which explains why regulatory bodies around the globe disagree with its determination that glyphosate is a ‘probable human carcinogen.’ Until IARC reforms its unscientific monograph process, its evaluations will continue to be out-of-step with the rest of the public health and regulatory community." 

Crop Protection Association chief executive Sarah Mukherjee said: "Glyphosate is, and always has been safe. This ruling is another reminder this debate has never really been about safety, it has been hijacked and politicised to force a wider debate on modern agriculture. It’s right that we’re having that debate, but it’s wrong to use health scares to get there.

"Glyphosate is an essential part of the farmer’s toolkit, helping them to tackle pests and produce healthy and safe food. Over 40 years of robust scientific evidence, supported by one of the most extensive human health, crop residue and environmental databases ever compiled on any pesticide shows no risk to safety, clearly the Commission should reauthorise glyphosate for the standard 15 year period."

Apart from the published studies on glyphosate, the ECHA committee also had full access to the original reports of studies conducted by industry. RAC has assessed all the scientific data, including any scientifically relevant information received during the public consultation in summer 2016.

RAC had a first discussion on glyphosate with stakeholders at its 39th meeting in December 2016.

RAC provides an independent scientific opinion on the hazard classification of the substance. The classification is based solely on the hazardous properties of the substance. It does not take into account the likelihood of exposure to the substance and therefore does not address the risks of exposure. The risks posed by exposure are considered for example when deciding whether to renew the approval of glyphosate as a pesticide in accordance with the EU’s Plant Protection Product Regulation (Regulation (EC) N° 1107/2009).

ECHA’s review is intended to resolve conflicting findings over the carcinogenicity of glyphosate after EU member states failed to reach an agreement on the renewal of the herbicide late in 2016. Speaking in 2016, European Health Commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitis, said "The last word belongs to the ECHA, which is why the Commission proposes to ask ECHA for its scientific assessment on the carcinogenicity of the herbicide and to extend the current approval of glyphosate until it receives ECHA’s opinion."

The opinion will now go through a normal editorial check before being sent to the European Commission and will be a determining factor in the European Commission’s decision of whether or not to renew approval for glyphosate as an active substance in pesticides later in 2017.

ECHA noted that the "committee also had full access to the original reports of studies conducted by industry. RAC has assessed all the scientific data, including any scientifically relevant information received during the public consultation in summer 2016." RAC’s independent classification is based "solely on the hazardous properties of the substance."

The European Commission previously extended glyphosate’s existing approval in the hope that the ECHA’s opinion would resolve conflicting scientific views over the carcinogenicity classification. The ECHA opened a public consultation in June 2016 on the evaluation carried out by Germany, as rapporteur member state, which concluded that there is no need for a specific classification for carcinogenicity.

ECHA’s classification is particularly prescient as litigation in the United States begins to take root. Current litigation relies on the International Agency for Research on Cancer’s (IARC) classification of glyphosate as a 2A carcinogen – probably carcinogenic to human beings.

ECHA’s finding that glyphosate is not a carcinogen throws doubt on IARC’s process and conclusion. In addition, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is conducting its own review of glyphosate.  Already in September 2016, the EPA published a "Glyphosate Issue Paper," which concluded that glyphosate should be classified as "not likely to be carcinogenic to humans."

Several regulatory bodies have studied glyphosate, all concluded the herbicide is not a carcinogen, including: Canadian Pest Management Regulatory Agency (31/4/15), EPA Cancer Assessment Review Committee (1/10/15), EFSA (12/11/15) UN/WHO (9-13/5/16), German Federal Institute for Occupational Safety and Health to ECHA (5/16) and NZ EPA (8/16.

The Soil Association said anti-glyphosate campaigns would continue. Policy director Peter Melchett, said: "The ECHA’s view contradicts the position of the World Health Organisation’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), which classified glyphosate as a ‘probable carcinogen’ in 2015. This also contradicts the Californian court which has just agreed that glyphosate can be labelled under Californian law as cancer causing.

"The ECHA only reviewed evidence on glyphosate in isolation, rather than as it is used, in products that always contain other substances. However, the EU Commission’s EFSA has cautioned that some glyphosate products 'contain higher toxicity'. It has also recommended the UK and other governments to restrict the use of glyphosate pre-harvest, and in public parks, playgrounds and gardens."


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