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A group of European regulators says it is unlikely that side effects of glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup weed killer, causes cancer. However, the group has also recommended an exposure threshold for human safety, and proposed new controls to keep the chemical’s residue out of food.
The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) announced the findings of a re-assessment of glyphosate on November 12, determining that the chemical is unlikely to be carcinogenic.
The findings contradict those of the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), which issued a warning in March that glyphosate was a probable carcinogen.
The warning led the EFSA to review glyphosate and update the chemical’s toxicological profile. However, a peer review by EFSA scientists and representatives from health agencies throughout the European Union member states failed to link the glyphosate exposure and cancer, indicating that it is unlikely to pose a carcinogenic threat to humans, and was unlikely to damage DNA.
According to the EFSA, the review included the IARC study and a large number of studies not reviewed by the IARC. However, the EFSA did set an acute reference dose (ARfD) for glyphosate of 0.5 mg per kg of body weight, which is the first time an exposure threshold has been applied to the chemical. The authority indicated that this will control the amount of residue allowed in food.
The EFSA’s findings are not binding on the EU member states, and each will use the authority’s recommendations to make their own conclusions about glyphosate safety. The European Commission will also make a determination on whether to keep glyphosate on the EU list of approved active substances.
“This has been an exhaustive process — a full assessment that has taken into account a wealth of new studies and data,” Jose Tarazona, head of EFSA’s Pesticides Unit, said in a press release. “By introducing an acute reference dose we are further tightening the way potential risks from glyphosate will be assessed in the future.”
Roundup is one of the most widely used herbicides, which was introduced by Monsanto in the 1970s. A recent report on glyphosate usage by the U.S. Geological Survey found that an estimated 2.6 billion pounds of the herbicide has been used 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.
Genetically modified crops, like corn and soybean, are branded as being “Roundup Ready.” However, as some weeds have developed resistance to glyphosate, it has forced farmers to use higher and higher quantities of Roundup.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced in April that it plans to address the safety concerns of glyphosate during the regular EPA safety review hearing occurring soon. Researchers warn pesticides are commonly detected in the air, food and water near areas that have been sprayed.
In the meantime, Monsanto now faces a growing number of glyphosate cancer lawsuits filed on behalf of farm workers, landscapers and other agricultural workers who have been diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma following heavy exposure to Roundup.