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US EPA to reassess health risks of glyphosate

Court orders agency to evaluate cancer risks and impacts on endangered species

by Britt E. Erickson
June 23, 2022 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 100, Issue 23


Bottle of Roundup herbicide on a store shelf.
Credit: Shutterstock
A federal court has ordered the US Environmental Protection Agency to reexamine the cancer risks of glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup herbicides.

In a win for public health and environmental groups, a federal appeals court ordered the US Environmental Protection Agency to reevaluate the human health risks of glyphosate. The EPA must reassess the cancer risks of the widely used herbicide, as well as its impact on endangered species, the Ninth US Circuit Court of Appeals ruled June 17.

The ruling nixes the EPA’s 2020 finding that glyphosate does not pose unreasonable risks to human health or the environment. The court agreed with the plaintiffs that the agency did not follow its own guidelines for evaluating cancer risks, but the three-judge panel ruled that the herbicide can remain on the market while the EPA completes its reassessment. The agency faces an October 2022 statutory deadline to finish that review.

The ruling “gives voice to those who suffer from glyphosate’s cancer, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma,” Amy van Saun, senior attorney with the Center for Food Safety and lead counsel in the case, says in a statement. “EPA’s ‘no cancer’ risk conclusion did not stand up to scrutiny.”

Glyphosate is the active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup, now made by Bayer, and in many generic formulations. Bayer has been the target of thousands of lawsuits from plaintiffs who claim that using Roundup contributed to their non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. In a setback for the company, the US Supreme Court announced June 21 that it will not review the ruling in one of the cases—a $25 million judgment in favor of Edwin Hardeman, a California man who claimed his cancer was caused by using Roundup on his property for decades.

The case serves as a test for thousands of other lawsuits. Most of the claims are related to residential use of glyphosate. In an attempt to thwart future litigation, Bayer announced last year that it would stop selling glyphosate in the US residential market in 2023.

Farm groups are disappointed that the Supreme Court will not hear Monsanto v. Hardeman. The Department of Justice advised it not to take up the case. In a brief submitted to the court, the Biden administration argues that states can impose labeling requirements beyond those federally mandated. Growers are concerned that a patchwork of state requirements will threaten access to tools needed to ensure a global food supply.



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