Groups seek EPA glyphosate review after WHO 'carcinogenic' link

By Sarah Gonzalez

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, March 27, 2015 - Food safety and environmental groups are asking EPA to “strongly weigh” a recent analysis by a World Health Organization (WHO) agency that labeled the widely used herbicide glyphosate as “probably carcinogenic” to humans in its upcoming review of the product.

The agency previously concluded that the product does not pose a risk to human health if used according to the label.

In a letter to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, the Center for Food Safety, Consumers Union, Environmental Working Group and five other groups said last week's announcement by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) was “extremely timely” considering that EPA is preparing to issue its preliminary risk assessment of the herbicide under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act.

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EPA reviews each registered pesticide every 15 years to determine whether it continues to meet standards set by the law. Glyphosate's first Reregistration Eligibility Decision (RED) was finalized in 1993.

“As a result of WHO's rigorous and independent review, the link between glyphosate and cancer has now been greatly strengthened,” the groups said in the letter. “No argument by the manufacturers and users of glyphosate should trump the conclusion that this toxic herbicide probably causes cancer in people.”

IARC announced last week that it has categorized glyphosate - used on millions of acres of commodity crops in the United States - in its Group 2A, which suggests the herbicide has “limited evidence” of carcinogenicity in humans and “sufficient evidence” of carcinogenicity in experimental animals, according to the agency.

Group 2A is one rank higher than IARC's Group 2B, “possibly carcinogenic to humans,” which includes cell phones and coffee. Group 1 is the next highest category, “carcinogenic to humans.”

In EPA's standing review of glyphosate, from the early 1990s, the agency concluded the product does not pose a risk to human health if used according to the label. The German Risk Agency (BfR) is conducting a glyphosate registration review that began in 2012 for the European Union, and issued an update in January that its investigation “did not provide any indications that glyphosate has carcinogenic [effects].”

In their letter to EPA, the environmental groups also asked that EPA reconsider its registration of Dow AgroSciences' dual herbicide Enlist Duo, which is a combination of glyphosate and 2,4-D. Late last year, EPA approved Enlist Duo for use in six states and the agency is still considering its registration in 10 more states.

Scott Faber, the executive director of the Just Label It campaign and vice president of government relations at Environmental Working Group, said in a media call today that the IARC analysis should have an impact on the national GMO labeling debate.

Arguing for the mandatory labeling of foods made with genetically engineered ingredients, he said, “At a minimum we should give consumers the ability to decide whether they want to support a system of agriculture that has led to the widespread use of a likely carcinogen.”

According to U.S. Geological Survey pesticide use maps, the amount of glyphosate used on crops in the U.S. increased from 27 million pounds in 1996 to 250 million pounds in 2009.

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Monsanto, which introduced the widely-used glyphosate herbicide Roundup in 1974, has strongly objected to IARC's categorization. IARC “received and purposefully disregarded” dozens of scientific studies that say the chemical is not a risk to human health, Monsanto said.

In a media call about the IARC review earlier this week, Monsanto's vice president of global regulatory affairs, Phil Miller, said the body should retract its statement and “actually justify how they've come to a conclusion that differs so vastly” from the conclusions of scientific and regulatory bodies like the EPA, which uses “the same information to come to the conclusion that glyphosate is safe for the environment and human health.”

During a House Agriculture subcommittee hearing this week, Nina Federoff, senior science advisor at OFW Law and a member of the National Academy of Sciences, said the IARC review is “not based on any new data” and many studies over the years, including those reviewed by regulatory agencies like the EPA, have failed to identify any carcinogenic effect of glyphosate.

The National Corn Growers Association (NCGA) also weighed into the debate recently. In a statement, President Chip Bowling described the IARC's recent movement to reclassify glyphosate as “irresponsible….. to reclassify glyphosate in such a capricious manner as this decision both creates panic and has the potential to impact access to one of farmers' main methods of combatting weeds. While glyphosate is one of the most studied, trusted crop protection products available today, it is under political attack currently, and it is possible this impacted IARC's decision.

“We urge IARC to release the scientific evidence upon which they claim to have based this decision as well as to reconsider the overwhelming scientific studies supporting the product's safety,” Bowling added.

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