EPA Wants Rehearing Over Glyphosate Cancer Risk Assessment, As Court-Imposed Deadline Looms

The agency claims it will need until 2026 to complete a reassessment regarding the safety of glyphosate, the active ingredient in the weedkiller Roundup

Federal environmental regulators are requesting that a U.S. appeals court grant a rehearing regarding a requirement to conduct a glyphosate cancer risk assessment, as it appears the agency will not meet a court-mandated deadline to complete its re-evaluation of the active ingredient in Roundup weed killers.

Earlier this month the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) filed a petition for rehearing with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which had given the agency a deadline of October 1 to re-review its prior cancer assessment of glyphosate.

The EPA has asked for the court to give it more time to complete the assessment, saying it will not be finished until 2026.

In June, the Ninth Circuit issued a ruling that found that the EPA previously used flawed reasoning and failed to follow its own scientific guidelines in determining that glyphosate is unlikely to cause cancer. The ruling was a result of a lawsuit filed by several major environmental groups in March 2020, who disagreed with the agency’s reapproval of the active weed killing ingredient in Roundup.

Glyphosate Cancer Information Ignored in Prior EPA Review

The prior EPA glyphosate safety review faced sharp criticism, as it seemed to ignore warnings issued by the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), which decided to classify glyphosate as a probable cancer-causing agent in 2015.

Following that warning, Bayer and its Monsanto subsidiary have faced thousands of Roundup lawsuits brought by former users of the weed killer who developed non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and internal documents were uncovered that found the companies provided false and misleading information to consumers and regulators for years, which suggested glyphosate does not cause cancer.

The EPA now says it cannot complete the reassessment until 2026, due to the complexity of the issues involved. The agency says that it will not meet the court-ordered October 1 deadline, which allowed only 106 days to complete the reassessment. Instead, the agency says it needs four more years to complete the review, according to various media outlets.

If the deadline cannot be changed, the EPA is asking the appeals court to partially vacate the decision. If not, the EPA claims that any findings it could turn in by October 1 would be, essentially, useless.

The Court is unlikely to make a ruling until other parties have had a chance to respond to the petition.

Glyphosate Review Already Planned

The EPA, now under the Biden Administration, has previously indicated it already planned to conduct a new review of glyphosate and Roundup, and has asked the Supreme Court not to intercede in the case.

An EPA assessment that finds glyphosate to be a cancer-causing agent and threat to the environment could result in new restrictions, or even Roundup recalls, depending on the severity of the findings.

Following a string of massive losses in Roundup cases that went to trial in 2018 and 2019, which highlighted evidence that the weed killer manufacturer ghost-wrote studies and manipulated data reviewed by federal regulators, Bayer has been engaging in an effort to settle the litigation.

Last year, the company reported that it would pay more than $11.6 billion in Roundup settlements. However, finalization of the agreements has been slow, with many plaintiffs rejecting their individual offers and new claims continuing to be filed by individuals diagnosed with cancer following prior use of the weed killer.

To limit its future liability over Roundup, Bayer recently announced plans to remove the active ingredient glyphosate from Roundup weed killers sold to U.S. residential customers by 2023. The products would still be sold under the Roundup label, but would use a different active ingredient, which has not been linked to a risk of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. However, glyphosate would still be used in products sold to agricultural businesses and farmers, and in product sold in other parts of the world, Bayer officials said.

Image Credit: Photo Courtesy of Mike Mozart via Flickr Creative Commons

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