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Glyphosate not a carcinogen, EU panel affirms

Conclusion supports renewed authorization of herbicide

by Cheryl Hogue
June 1, 2022 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 100, Issue 20

Chemical structure of glyphosate

Glyphosate, the main ingredient in Bayer’s Roundup and many generic herbicides, is not a carcinogen, a panel of European Union chemical safety experts concluded May 30.

After reviewing scientific evidence, the European Chemical Agency (ECHA) Committee for Risk Assessment agreed that classifying glyphosate as a carcinogen “is not justified.” The committee’s conclusion on the hazards of glyphosate upholds a 2021 assessment by France, Hungary, the Netherlands, and Sweden in support of renewed authorization for glyphosate use in the EU.

In addition to finding that glyphosate is not a carcinogen, the ECHA committee determined that the chemical doesn’t meet the criteria for EU classification as a mutagen or a substance that is toxic for reproduction. However, it can cause serious eye damage and is toxic to aquatic life, the panel said.

The ECHA panel ignored scientific arguments from independent experts about glyphosate’s carcinogenicity and genotoxicity, says Angeliki Lyssimachou, senior science policy officer at the Health and Environmental Alliance, a coalition of advocacy organizations in Europe. “The failure to recognize the carcinogenic potential of glyphosate is a mistake, and should be considered as a big step backwards in the fight against cancer,” she says in a statement.

The committee’s report will be sent to the European Food Safety Authority in August, ECHA says. The food safety agency will conduct a risk assessment of glyphosate, with conclusions expected in July 2023. Later, the European Commission, the executive branch of the EU, will determine whether to propose reauthorizing use of glyphosate.

In 2015, the food safety authority determined that glyphosate is unlikely to damage DNA or pose a risk of cancer in people.

The ECHA panel’s conclusion comes as Bayer is embroiled in US court cases brought by thousands of plaintiffs alleging their exposure to Roundup caused non-Hodgkin’s lymphomas. The plaintiffs point to a 2015 report from the World Health Organization that classified glyphosate as “probably carcinogenic to humans”.



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