US government regulators have again confirmed that glyphosate, the world’s most widely used weedkiller, is safe to use.
In an interim decision on glyphosate, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said: “There are no risks of concern to human health when glyphosate is used according to the label and that it is not a carcinogen.”
Bayer CropScience manufactures the herbicide Roundup, which contains glyphosate as the main active ingredient.
Liam Condon, Bayer’s global president for crop science, welcomed the EPA’s decision, which was based on an expert review over a 10-year period.
“The EPA’s latest decision on glyphosate-based herbicides adds to the long-term evaluation of leading international health authorities that these products can be used safely, and that glyphosate is not carcinogenic,” said Mr Condon.
He added that farmers rely on these products “not only for effective weed control, but also to minimise tillage farming practices, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, preserve more land for native habitats, and provide enough food to meet the needs of a growing population worldwide”.
In 2015, the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) concluded that glyphosate is a “probable carcinogenic to humans”.
Since then, a number of regulatory and scientific bodies have concluded that the active is not carcinogenic. This includes the European Food Safety Authority (Efsa), European Chemicals Agency (ECHA), German BfR, and Australian, Canadian, Korean, New Zealand and Japanese regulatory authorities, as well as the Joint FAO/WHO Meeting on Pesticide Residues (JMPR).
Bayer is facing more than 42,700 compensation claims, mostly in US courts, alleging that its Roundup weedkiller causes a type of cancer – non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. The company denies all allegations.
The US Center for Biological Diversity said the EPA’s decision ignores independent science linking glyphosate to cancer.
“The Trump EPA’s assertion that glyphosate poses no risks to human health disregards independent science findings in favour of confidential industry research and industry profits,” said Lori Ann Burd, its director of environmental health.
“This administration’s troubling allegiance to Bayer/Monsanto and the pesticide industry doesn’t change the trove of peer-reviewed research, by leading scientists, that’s found troubling links between glyphosate and cancer.”
EU approval until 2022
Glyphosate is approved for use in the European Union (EU) until 15 December 2022. Member states will decide whether to renew its licence or not.
The UK officially left the EU on Friday (31 January). However, it will continue to observe EU rules on pesticides during a transition period lasting until 31 December this year.
The UK government will then be able to create its own legislation on plant protection products, and also decide if it wants to diverge from EU rules.
This could have significant implications for the future use of key pesticides which face an uncertain future, including asulam, chlorpyrifos and glyphosate.