The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently concluded that the available data at this time suggest that the herbicide, glyphosate, is “not likely to be carcinogenic to humans.”
The EPA’s Office of Pesticide Programs (OPP) undertook the glyphosate study as part of its periodic review of pesticides registered under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA), the federal statute governing the registration and use of pesticides. These reviews are conducted at least every fifteen years to determine if pesticides (a term which encompasses herbicides like glyphosate) still meet the criteria for FIFRA registration.
According to the report, “In epidemiological studies, there was no evidence of an association between glyphosate exposure and numerous cancer outcomes; however, due to conflicting results and various limitations identified in studies investigating [non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma], a conclusion regarding the association between glyphosate exposure and risk of [non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma] cannot be determined based on the available data.” U.S. EPA Off. of Pesticide Programs, Glyphosate Issue Paper: Evaluation of Carcinogenic Potential, at § 6.7 (Sept. 12, 2016). The report goes on to state: “Overall, animal carcinogenicity and genotoxicity studies were remarkably consistent and did not demonstrate a clear association between glyphosate exposure and outcomes of interest related to carcinogenic potential.” Id. The release of the 227-page issue paper precedes an EPA-organized meeting of independent scientists that is scheduled for October 18. At the meeting, which will take place at the OPP headquarters in Arlington, Virginia, outside scientists will review the EPA’s findings.
Glyphosate is a non-selective, phosphonomethyl amino acid herbicide registered to control weeds in various agricultural and non-agricultural settings. An herbicide with a broad range of agricultural, commercial, and household applications, glyphosate has been the subject of intense debate surrounding its potential link to non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and various other forms of cancer.
In March 2015, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), a subdivision of the World Health Organization (WHO), determined that glyphosate was a probable human carcinogen. The IARC also recommended that the Joint Meeting on Pesticide Residue (JMPR), another arm of the WHO, reevaluate glyphosate in light of the IARC’s findings.
Later, in November 2015, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) determined that glyphosate was unlikely to pose a carcinogenic hazard to humans. Additionally, in response to the IARC’s recommendation, the JMPR released its evaluation in May 2016, concluding that glyphosate was unlikely to pose a carcinogenic risk to humans from exposure through diet.
The EPA’s October 18 meeting will have significant implications for food manufacturers and agrochemical companies alike. Following the meeting, the EPA plans to release its final report in early-2017. In the report, the EPA is expected to make its final determination as to whether companies may continue to use and sell glyphosate and, if so, create guidelines for doing so. We intend to closely monitor this meeting and plan to outline the EPA’s final report on our blog once it is released.
*Not admitted to the practice of law.