Europe: EU agency sees no cancer risk in glyphosate

Glyphosate, a broad-spectrum herbicide, which is also used on feed grade and malting barley, has been declared safe for public use by the European Chemical Agency (ECHA). The agency was asked to judge the toxicity of the best-selling herbicide after EU countries failed last June to follow a positive recommendation from the European Food Safety Authority on a reauthorization. The European Union granted an 18-month extension until December 2017 for a final decision on Europe’s further regulatory approval of glyphosate, which is sold under Monsanto’s trade name RoundUp.

In April last year, an environmental institute discovered traces above the 0.1 microgram limit allowed in drinking water in all of the 14 popular-selling German beers it tested. Experts confirmed that most beers around the world are struggling with impurities caused by glyphosate but did not say, if this has a major impact on human’s health.

But researchers also found out, that meat also contains higher doses of glyphosate because vegetarians and vegans showed much lower levels of the herbicide in their urine than meat eaters. The fact that vegetarians and vegans do not have a higher life expectancy might lead to the conclusion that glyphosate does not do a major harm to the human body, even if detected in higher doses.

It has now to be seen, if ECHA’s research findings will be enough to convince the European Union of the safety of glyphosate.

Tim Bowmer, the chairman of ECHA's Committee for Risk Assessment (RAC), said that ECHA’s conclusion “was based both on the human evidence and the weight of the evidence of all the animal studies reviewed.” 

In today’s press statement the RAC concluded “that the available scientific evidence did not meet the criteria in the CLP Regulation to classify glyphosate for specific target organ toxicity, or as a carcinogen, as a mutagen or for reproductive toxicity.” Anyhow, the RAC agreed “to maintain the current harmonised classification of glyphosate as a substance causing serious eye damage and being toxic to aquatic life with long-lasting effects.”

The agency also said that “the classification is based solely on the hazardous properties of the substance. It does not take into account the likelihood of exposure to the substance and therefore does not address the risks of exposure. The risks posed by exposure are considered for example when deciding whether to renew the approval of glyphosate as a pesticide in accordance with the EU’s Plant Protection Product Regulation.”

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