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EPA Roundup Safety Evaluation Meeting Delayed Amid Debate Over Cancer Concerns

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Amid continuing debate worldwide about the link between cancer and Roundup exposure, federal regulators have postponed a hearing on the safety of glyphosate, the active ingredient in the popular weedkiller, following protests by the agricultural industry over the make-up of a panel of experts. 

Last week, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced it is postponing a meeting of the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) Scientific Advisory Panel, which had been scheduled for October 18 through October 21. Now the agency indicates that the earliest the meeting may take place is December.

The advisory panel meeting was set to discuss the EPA’s evaluation of whether glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide, and determine whether regulatory actions may be necessary due to the potential risk of cancer associated with Roundup. While several health organizations have indicated that glyphosate may be a human carcinogen, preliminary reports from the EPA indicate the agency has not reached the same conclusions.

Roundup safety concerns have generated worldwide debate following an announcement last year by the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), which determined that glyphosate is a cancer causing agent. In particular, the IARC report linked the side effects of Roundup to an increased risk of non-Hodgkins lymphoma.

Some environmental groups say the EPA has been unduly influenced by Monsanto and other agricultural corporations, which have lobbied the agency to remove experts from the panel if they have expressed an opinion in the past that supported the IARC’s findings.

Crop Life America (CLA), which represents the agricultural industry, wrote to the EPA in an August letter (PDF) which called the meeting unnecessary and called for restrictions on the experts the EPA would seat on the panel.

“EPA is legally obligated to exclude industry members whose conflicts of interest and established biases preclude their ability to impartially contribute to the panel’s final report, conclusions of which likely will inform regulatory determinations in the near term,” the letter states. “CLA therefore opposes the selection of any ad hoc members who have already made a determination regarding the carcinogenic potential of glyphosate.”

Again, on October 12, CLA wrote another letter (PDF) specifically naming some panel members that it wanted removed because they have supported the IARC’s claims and questioned the validity of their testimony.

Roundup Cancer Lawsuits

As debate continues within the medical and regulatory communities over the health risks associated with glyphosate, Monsanto now faces a growing number of Roundup cancer lawsuits filed throughout the United States, typically involving individuals diagnosed with a form of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma following heavy exposure to the herbicide as a farm or agricultural worker.

The complaints allege that the manufacturer recklessly promoted Roundup and pushed greater and greater use of the chemical, without disclosing the potential health risks or warning about the importance of safety measures that may have reduced exposure to the chemical.

A recent U.S. Geological Survey on glyphosate usage nationwide found that an estimated 2.6 billion pounds of the herbicide has been sprayed on America’s agricultural land over the two decades since the mid-1990s, when Monsanto introduced “Roundup Ready” crops that are designed to survive being sprayed with glyphosate, killing the weeds but not the crops.

The lawsuits over Roundup allege that plaintiffs may have avoided a diagnosis of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma or other cancers if they had been warned about the Roundup risks for farmers, landscapers and others in the agricultural industry, as safety precautions could have been taken or other products could have been used to control the growth of weeds.

On October 4, a panel of federal judges centralized all Roundup cancer lawsuits filed in U.S. federal courts before U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria in the Northern District of California for pretrial proceedings.

As part of the coordinated pretrial proceedings, it is expected that Judge Chhabria will establish a bellwether process, where a small group of cases will be scheduled for early trial dates to help gauge how juries may respond to certain evidence and testimony that is likely to be repeated throughout the litigation If Roundup non-Hodgkins lymphoma settlements are not reached following the coordinated MDL proceedings, each case may ultimately be remanded back to the U.S. District Court where it was originally filed for an individual trial date in the future.

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