On March 15, the European Chemical’s Agency (ECHA) announced that it has found glyphosate not to be a carcinogen.
ECHA’s review is intended to resolve conflicting findings over the carcinogenicity of glyphosate after European Union member states failed to reach an agreement on the renewal of the herbicide late in 2016.
Speaking earlier in 2016, European Health Commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitis said “the last word belongs to the ECHA, which is why the (European) 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 ECHA Committee for Risk Assessment (RAC) agreed to maintain the current harmonized classification of glyphosate as a substance causing serious eye damage and that is 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.
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 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.” The agency added that 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 opinion would resolve conflicting scientific views on the carcinogenicity classification. ECHA opened a public consultation in June 2016 on the evaluation carried out by Germany, as rapporteur member state, which concluded that there was no need for a specific classification for carcinogenicity.
ECHA’s classification is particularly relevant as litigation in the U.S. 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. However, IARC has numerous documented issues with transparency and has been criticized for past work.
ECHA’s finding that glyphosate is not a carcinogen “throws further doubt on IARC’s process and conclusion,” the Campaign for Accuracy in Public Health Research noted in a statement.
In addition, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is conducting its own review of glyphosate. In September 2016, EPA published a “Glyphosate Issue Paper” that concluded that glyphosate should be classified as “not likely to be carcinogenic to humans.”
The Campaign for Accuracy in Public Health Research noted that several regulatory bodies have studied glyphosate, and they all concluded that the herbicide is not a carcinogen. These include:
- Canadian Pest Management Regulatory Agency (April 13, 2015).
- EPA’s Cancer Assessment Review Committee (Oct. 1, 2015).
- European Food Safety Authority (Nov. 12, 2015).
- U.N. World Health Organization (May 9-13, 2016).
- German Federal Institute for Occupational Safety & Health, to ECHA (May 2016).
- New Zealand Environmental Protection Authority (August 2016).