Glyphosate not likely to cause cancer in people, says EPA

A draft human health risk assessment of the most widely used weedkiller in the world concludes that glyphosate is not likely to be a human cancer agent, says the Environmental Protection Agency. The safety of glyphosate has been debated worldwide since the WHO cancer agency classified it as “probably carcinogenic to humans,” one step short of its strongest warning, in 2015.

The EPA is conducting a periodic review of glyphosate, a step required by law every 15 years to assure that pesticides meet federal safety standards. The risk assessments and background documents will be posted on the internet in early 2018, said the agency, with a 60-day comment period to follow. The EPA then will evaluate the comments and decide if any changes are needed in the regulation of glyphosate.

Besides deciding the herbicide is not likely to be carcinogenic to humans, the EPA said its assessment found no other meaningful risks to human health when the chemical is used as directed. The human risk report “supports continuation of the current registered glyphosate uses.” The non-selective herbicide is approved for pre- and post-emergence use on a variety of fruit, vegetable, and field crops as well as turf, and on some aquatic plants.

EU nations approved a five-year extension of the license to use glyphosate in Europe in late November, ending a year and a half of indecision. EU administrators dropped the idea of a 10-year extension in the face of public opposition.

The use of glyphosate has skyrocketed since the 1990s, when Monsanto genetically modified corn, soybeans, and cotton varieties to tolerate doses of the weedkiller. Monsanto, which makes glyphosate, has strongly defended the safety of its product since the 2015 ruling by the International Agency for Research on Cancer. The IARC convened a panel of 17 experts from 11 countries to assess glyphosate and four other organophosphate pesticides.

The EPA has leaned toward the “not likely to be carcinogenic to humans” classification for glyphosate since at least September 2016, when an “issue paper” written by a panel of experts was released. The EPA updated the issue paper this month, saying it had incorporated additional studies “from registrants … that existed but had never been submitted to the agency.” The EPA said its conclusions align with a 2015 EU review and a 2016 FAO/WHO assessment.

To read the EPA’s draft human health and ecological risk assessments for glyphosate, click here.