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A panel of scientific advisers are conducting a safety review to evaluate the potential side effects of exposure to Roundup, Monsanto’s popular weed killer, raising questions about federal regulators’ recent claims that the active ingredient glyphosate is not likely to cause cancer.
The scientific advisory panel met last week for four days at the behest of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), to review the scientific evidence for and against a link between glyphosate and cancer, specifically non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. The hearings were contentious, with claims of industry bias on behalf of the EPA, and questions about the exclusion of one proposed panel member.
Concerns over the risk of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma from Roundup exposure gained widespread media attention last year, after the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) determined that glyphosate is a probable human carcinogen.
The warning sparked world-wide debate about the widespread use of Roundup and other glyphosate-based weedkillers, raising questions about why Monsanto failed to warn farmers, landscapers, gardeners and other consumers about the potential Roundup risks.
Before the hearing, the EPA submitted an evaluation of glyphosate (PDF) indicating that it is not likely carcinogenic. However, some of the 15 scientists on the panel raised questions about the agency’s methodologies, questioning why some evidence was included and others excluded.
The IARC’s findings were based off of only peer-reviewed, independent research on glyphosate and its potential cancer effects. However, the EPA excluded some of those studies and also relied on studies conducted by industry interests and studies which were never published or peer-reviewed, the panel and some speakers noted.
Some said that it appeared the EPA violated its own guidelines in its selection of evidence, by excluding a number of peer-reviewed studies which found a statistically significant link between glyphosate and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, which EPA officials defended by claiming they exercised “professional judgment.”
In addition, it appears the EPA kicked one member, Dr. Peter Infante, off of the panel at the request of the industry trade group CropLife America. The EPA said his removal from the panel was voluntary, however, Infante, who has worked for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, showed up as a speaker, and has said his removal was not voluntary as the EPA claims.
Infante has been critical of industry-sponsored studies in the past, and has testified in some cases as an epidemiological expert on pesticide side effects. CropLife claimed that he is biased against industry and should not be part of the panel.
In a letter sent on December 12, the Center for Food Safety claimed that Infante’s removal from the Science Advisory Panel (SAP) violates Congressional guidelines on how advisory groups are formed.
“Dr. Infante is a highly regarded epidemiologist with a long record of public service, including a stint on an EPA advisory board, who possesses the technical expertise to assess glyphosate’s carcinogenic potential,” the letter states. “The EPA dismissed Dr. Infante only after duly appointing him to the SAP, in response to pressure from a special interest, the pesticide industry lobby group CropLife, in violation of the Federal Advisory Committee Act.”
The panel has 90 days to pour over the testimony, literature and evidence presented during the hearing, after which it will submit recommendations to the EPA. Those recommendations are non-binding, but usually have significant influence on the agency’s final decisions.
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.
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.