The Environmental Protection Agency must reexamine its finding that glyphosate is “not likely” to cause cancer in humans, a federal appeals court ruled Friday.

EPA’s determination, reached in a paper on carcinogenicity that supported its January 2020 interim registration decision, is inconsistent with a statement it also made in the paper — that it could not reach “a conclusion regarding the association between glyphosate exposure and risk of [non-Hodgkin lymphoma],” the court said, quoting the EPA paper.

The court vacated the human health portion of the interim decision and remanded it to the agency. It also remanded the agency’s ecological analysis but did not vacate it.

Glyphosate is the active ingredient in Roundup, the most widely used herbicide in the world. Monsanto, bought by Bayer in 2018, is facing thousands of claims from people claiming Roundup exposure has caused their NHL. 

In a news release, the Center for Food Safety, one of the groups challenging the decision, said “the court … concluded “that EPA’s general ‘no cancer’ decision was divorced from its own guidelines and experts when EPA selectively discounted evidence that glyphosate causes tumors in animals.”

“We welcome and applaud the court on this significant decision,” said Jeannie Economos, Pesticide Safety and Environmental Health Project Coordinator at the Farmworker Association of Florida, a plaintiff in the case.

In a statement, Roundup registrant Bayer said, “We believe that the U.S. EPA will continue to conclude, as it and other regulators have consistently concluded for more than four decades, that glyphosate-based herbicides can be used safely and are not carcinogenic, and we are committed to working with the agency to minimize the environmental impacts of our products.”

Bayer added, ”Importantly, the current product registrations remain in place and growers and other users can continue to use the products based on the current label instructions.”

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In determining it could not come to a conclusion about the association between glyphosate exposure and NHL, EPA’s “cancer paper discussed human epidemiological studies showing what could be considered suggestive evidence that glyphosate exposure causes NHL.”

However, “EPA discounted epidemiological studies showing increased NHL risk by concluding that ‘chance and/or bias’ could be ‘an explanation for observed associations in the database,’” the court said.

“EPA … cannot reasonably treat its inability to reach a conclusion about NHL risk as consistent with a conclusion that glyphosate is ‘not likely’ to cause cancer within the meaning of [EPA’s] Cancer Guidelines,” the court said.

The court required EPA to “redo and/or finish all remaining glyphosate determinations by an October 2022 deadline, or within four months,” CFS said. “This includes a redone ecological toxicity assessment, a redone costs analysis of impacts to farmers from pesticide harms, as well as all endangered species analysis and mitigation.”

Aside from CFS, other petitioners in the lawsuit include the Rural Coalition, Farmworker Association of Florida, Organización en California de Lideres Campesinas, and Beyond Pesticides. The Natural Resources Defense Council and the Pesticide Action Network are also involved in a consolidated case. 

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