More than 90% of endangered species are “likely to be adversely affected” by use of glyphosate, but mostly through non-agricultural uses, the Environmental Protection Agency concluded in a draft biological evaluation of the impacts of the herbicide released Wednesday.
The evaluation was conducted to comply with the Endangered Species Act, which prohibits federal agencies from engaging in actions likely to “jeopardize the continued existence” of threatened or endangered species. EPA is asking for public comments on the evaluation for 60 days.
Once EPA analyzes the comments it receives, it will issue a final BE determining whether use of glyphosate — commonly sold under the brand name Roundup — “may affect” ESA-listed listed species or their critical habitats. If so, it will have to consult with the Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries, which will prepare their own evaluations identifying ways to ameliorate those impacts, including possible restrictions.
Of 1,795 species it looked at, EPA said it found 1,676, or 93%, were likely to be adversely affected by glyphosate applications. More than half of those (940) are plants.
EPA said throughout its analysis, “the BE maintains conservative assumptions and may overstate the number of species exposed to and impacted by a pesticide.” It also said the vast majority of the determination relied on “moderate” evidence.
"The majority of the moderate evidence designations were based on non-agricultural uses being the main risk drivers and the lack of availability and uncertainty in usage data associated with these use sites," EPA said in its evaluation. "The major transport routes off the treated area for glyphosate include runoff and spray drift."
"Important non-agricultural uses include applications for noxious and invasive weed control in aquatic systems, pastures/rangelands, public lands, forestry, and rights-of-way applications," EPA said.
EPA issued an interim registration review decision in January that included some additional label restrictions to reduce spray drift. It said then it had “identified potential ecological risk to mammals and birds, but these risks are expected to be limited to the application area or areas near the application area." Ultimately, “the benefits outweigh the potential ecological risks when glyphosate is used according to label directions,” EPA said.
EPA said if the wildlife services find "jeopardy" to listed species or "adverse modification" to species critical habitat, they, "with input from EPA, will propose protection measures. Protection measures could include seeking to change the terms of the pesticide registration to establish either generic or geographically specific pesticide use limitations if the agency determines that limitations are necessary to ensure that legal use of a pesticide will not harm listed species or their critical habitat."
Bayer, which acquired Monsanto and its Roundup line of products when it acquired the company in 2018, said it was reviewing EPA’s draft.
"The safety of our products is our top priority, and we will continue to participate in this public process and provide information to the EPA to help ensure the agency can make fully informed science-based decisions that are protective of listed species and critical habitats. In the meantime, the EPA’s current determination – that glyphosate products pose no unreasonable risks when used according to label requirements – still stands, and growers and others can continue to use glyphosate products according to current label instructions." The company says use of glyphosate helps to "minimize tillage farming practices, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, preserve more land for native habitats."
The Center for Biological Diversity, whose lawsuits have spurred development of ESA analyses of pesticidal impacts, said the evaluation confirms the impacts of glyphosate on imperiled species. “Glyphosate use is so widespread that even the EPA’s notoriously industry-friendly pesticide office had to conclude that there are hardly any endangered species that can manage to evade its toxic impacts,” said Lori Ann Burd, CBD’s environmental health director.
This story has been updated to include additional information and reaction.
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