Roundup Weedkiller Faces Relicensing in Europe Amid Cancer Warning by WHO

Despite recent cancer warnings about Roundup issued by the World Health Organization (WHO), the prospects for European relicensing of Monsanto’s popular herbicide may have received a boost this week, after a German report indicated that the active ingredient, glyphosate, is safe. 

The results of an investigation by the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessments (BfR) found no link between glyphosate and cancer. While the study’s findings have not yet been released, they were reported on July 15 by the Guardian newspaper in the United Kingdom.

The report comes as glyphosate faces a relicensing review later this year by European officials. That relicensing may have been threatened by a report earlier this year by WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) which classified glyphosate as a probable carcinogen.

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Some EU officials have said that Monsanto’s relicensing bid may be delayed as regulators take the IARC report into account. If the license is revoked, it would prevent use of the herbicide throughout the European Union.

In addition to Roundup, glyphosate is also used in a number of other weed killers, including Ortho Groundclear, Sharpshooter, StartUp, Vector, Traxion, KleenUp and Touchdown Total.

The BfR’s report was based significantly on unpublished data provided by the Glyphosate Task Force, a Monsanto-backed group specifically tasked with getting the herbicide relicensed. BfR officials said they concluded glyphosate was not a carcinogen, but also said they have not seen the IARC’s full report, which linked Roundup to an increased risk of non-Hodgkins Lymphoma and Parkinson’s disease.

In addition to calling glyphosate safe, the BfR recommended the chemical’s reapproval and even recommended that the acceptable daily intake be increased from 0.3 mg per kilogram of body weight to 0.5 mg.

Monsanto has said that the IARC’s conclusions were agenda-driven and based on “junk science,” and has said it is convening its own independent panel to review the cancer risks of Roundup, which is the most widely used weed killer in the world.

Consumer use of Roundup began to skyrocket in the mid 1990s, after Monsanto introduced genetically engineered crops to withstand treatment with Roundup, killing the weeds and not the crops. Genetically modified crops, like corn and soybean, are branded as being “Roundup Ready.”

Some weeds have developed resistance to glyphosate, thus forcing farmers to use higher quantities of Roundup.

The U.S. Geological Survey estimated agricultural use of glyphosate increased drastically from 110 million pounds in 2002, now to more than 283 million pounds in 2012.

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.

France recently banned the sale of Roundup at garden centers across the country, following the WHO cancer warnings. The ban was enacted in April, and French officials said they plan to ban the use of all pesticides for home-gardening by 2022. The decision was reached one month after the findings of the IARC study were published.


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