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Lawmakers in the European Union must be given access to scientific studies that regulators there used to determine that Roundup exposure is safe, according to a recent court ruling, which could reignite the debate about whether glyphosate, the active ingredient in the widely used weedkiller, should be licensed for sale in the EU.
On March 7, the General Court of the European Union issued a press release (PDF), announcing a ruling that requires the European Food Safety Agency (EFSA) to disclose data it used to decide glyphosate is not likely a human carcinogen, which contrasts with findings from some independent studies linking exposure to a risk of non-Hodgkins lymphoma and other cancers.
The ruling came as the result of two lawsuits, with the most recent filed by four EU lawmakers, including Heidi Hautala, of Finland; Benedek Javor, of Hungary; Michele Rivasi, of France; and Bart Staes, of Belgium. They filed a complaint in May 2017, calling for the EFSA to disclose the data after the agency refused to give them access.
Several months later, in November 2017, the member states of the EU voted to extend the license for glyphosate. The vote passed by only one vote; with that deciding vote coming from Germany, who had previously abstained, and is now the home country of Monsanto, the makers of Roundup, after Bayer purchased the company last year.
In recent years, there have been increasing concerns worldwide about the safety of glyphosate, with thousands of Roundup lawsuits pending in the United States, which have been brought by farmers, landscapers and other consumers diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma following regular exposure to glyphosate.
Regulatory agencies who signed off on the glyphosate safety based on unpublished studies have faced sharp criticism following the release of the “Monsanto Papers”, which were uncovered through the ongoing Roundup litigation, suggesting that Monsanto has manipulated data, had undue influence on regulators and even wrote parts of the EFSA’s glyphosate review.
The EFSA refused to release the documents to lawmakers, claiming that disclosure could seriously harm commercial and financial interests of some companies, and maintaining that there was no public interest justifying the disclosure. EFSA has also indicated that it does not consider access to the study data on emissions of glyphosate into the environment necessary to verify its scientific assessment of the risks of Roundup exposure.
The General Court ruling found that public interest overrides protecting the commercial interests of a particular individual or company. It also disagreed with claims by the EFSA that information on emissions of glyphosate into the environment could be hypothetical and not necessary to verify its decisions or serve the public interest.
“Thus, the public must have access not only to information on emissions as such, but also to information concerning the medium to long-term consequences of those emissions on the state of the environment, such as the effects of those emissions on non-targeted organisms,” the ruling states. “The public interest in accessing information on emissions into the environment is specifically to know not only what is, or foreseeably will be, released into the environment, but also to understand the way in which the environment could be affected by the emissions in question.”
Concerns over the safety of glyphosate were launched by the findings of the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), which declared in 2015 that glyphosate used in Roundup and other weedkillers was a probable carcinogen.
In the United States, first case to go before a jury last summer resulted in a $289 million verdict for a former California school groundskeeper, finding that Monsanto has withheld warnings from the public about the health risks associated with Roundup. While the verdict was later reduced to $78 million by the trial judge, Monsanto faces a series of additional trials in state and federal courts over the next year over the health risks associated with their glyphosate-based weedkiller.