The European Union (EU) Glyphosate (AGG) Review Group has just released an 11,000-page report showing yet again that the popular herbicide is safe when used as directed. The reviewers examined the potential germ cell mutagenicity, carcinogenicity, reproductive toxicity, specific target organ toxicity (STOT), endocrine disrupting effects and environmental impact of glyphosate, concluding that:
For all proposed uses, safe use could be demonstrated for operators and workers (both without personal protective equipment) and for bystandersâ¦ Overall, AGG concludes that glyphosate meets approval criteria â¦ As an active substance for use in plant protection products.
Their conclusion on the carcinogenicity of glyphosate was particularly interesting: it does not exist:
Taking into account all the evidence, ie animal experiments, epidemiological studies and statistical analyzesâ¦ the AGG does not consider the criteria for classification with respect to carcinogenicityâ¦ The AGG proposes that a classification of glyphosate with respect to carcinogenicity should not is not justified.
Seventeen previous reviews by regulators around the world have come to the same conclusion. The exception: a single monograph published by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) in 2015 found the weedkiller to be a “likely carcinogen”, but the WHO agency has since been criticized by independent experts for ruling out research that would have changed his resolve. Researchers affiliated with IARC who then served as expert witnesses in lawsuits alleging glyphosate causes cancer have also raised questions about the agency’s objectivity.
Some anti-pesticide groups alleged that Bayer tried to obscure the evidence incriminating its weedkiller. This accusation is false, but it is also irrelevant. As the AGG noted, its analysis included a thorough review of published evidence gathered by independent scientists:
The dossier includes almost all the tests and studies from previous EU approval processes as well as new studies and a recent public literature reviewâ¦ The documentary search, which covered a period of ten years before the dossier was submitted , resulted in 7,000 published scientific publications. .
Activist groups such as the Environmental Working Group, funded by the organic industry, have also alleged that glyphosate residues in food could pose a risk to consumers. The re-examination examined this possibility and, following the US EPA, found that
No chronic or acute risk to the consumer is expected from the treatment of crops with glyphosateâ¦ This exposure assessment includes possible residues on crops after application of glyphosate, and possible residues in the original foodstuffs animals when livestock have been exposed to glyphosate and its metabolites.
However, the reviewers found that the GRG should provide additional data to confirm this conclusion. There were a few other points of caution. For residential use (as opposed to agricultural use), there was a scenario “wherein, due to an expected high spray drift, no safe use could be demonstrated.
The review also found that glyphosate can cause “serious eye damage” and is “toxic to aquatic life with long term effects”. But these findings were carried over from the previous assessment, meaning they were not significant enough to alter the AGG’s conclusion. As University of Florida plant breeder Kevin Folta told ACSH via email,
The glyphosate review group correctly noted the necessary precautions for use in aquatic environments and the potential for eye irritation – there were no surprises in the report.
GRG will need to clear additional regulatory hurdles before the EU reauthorizes glyphosate. These include a further review by the European Food Safety Authority and the European Chemicals Agency, a public comment period and further scrutiny by regulators from different EU member states. That said, the AGG report offers further confirmation that glyphosate does not pose a serious risk to human health or the environment. Folta added in her email:
Glyphosate continues to survive intense and periodic scientific scrutiny by the world’s most rigorous regulators, but it is deemed dangerous by public opinion. Can we please stop letting lawyers and activists invent science that influences farmers’ freedom to operate?
Cameron J. English is the Director of Biosciences at the American Council on Science and Health. Follow him on twitter @camjenglish