The US Environmental Protection Agency is unable to meet a court-ordered deadline to assess the ecological risks of the herbicide glyphosate, the agency announced Sept. 23. Rather than fixing parts of its glyphosate assessment, as required by the court, the agency has decided to completely redo it.
Glyphosate products can remain on the market while the EPA does the assessment. The agency expects to complete it by 2026.
The EPA conducted human-health and ecological risk assessments for glyphosate under the administration of Donald J. Trump. In an interim decision published in early 2020, the agency concluded that glyphosate poses no risks to human health. The EPA allowed the widely-used herbicide to stay on the market with label changes to manage spray drift and herbicide resistance.
Environmental groups challenged the decision in March 2020. In June 2022, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ordered the EPA to reevaluate the cancer risks of glyphosate, particularly for farmworkers. The court also ordered the agency to reassess the ecological risks of glyphosate, including its impact on endangered species, by Oct. 1.
The EPA is consulting with the US Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service to determine how best to manage the risks of glyphosate to endangered species. In late 2020, it declared that glyphosate is likely to adversely affect 93% of threatened and endangered species.
Petitioners in the 2020 lawsuit have mixed reactions to the EPA’s withdrawal of the glyphosate decision. “On the one hand, today is another major victory: EPA has now conceded defeat for all of the broken interim registration,” Amy van Saun, senior attorney at the Center for Food Safety and lead counsel in the case, says in a statement. “On the other hand, today’s announcement is also an irresponsible cop-out to try and get around the Court’s deadline to fix its legal violations,” she says. “And in the meantime, EPA is letting glyphosate be sold and sprayed, despite outstanding major questions about its health and environmental safety.”