When news broke that the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) had classified the herbicide glyphosate as a “probable carcinogenic” based upon data from some (but not all) research papers on the subject, the Internet and traditional news media went into overdrive with comments, points and counterpoints. In addition, reactions from special interest groups, independent researchers, growers and big crop protection product suppliers such as Monsanto flew fast and furious for several days after the initial announcement. Indeed, in last week’s CropLife enewsletter, we looked more closely at this topic (although in a decidedly light-hearted manner).
Given this outcry for and against continued glyphosate use in agriculture and the consumer market, one important voice has remained missing – the EPA. As the gatekeeper/official researcher into the safety of products used by agriculture, the agency carries quite a bit of regulatory weight in the grand scheme of things.
Yet, when pressed for some comment, EPA has not been very forceful. “In 1991, EPA concluded that glyphosate should be classified as a Group E (evidence of non-carcinogenicity for humans) based on a lack of convincing carcinogenicity evidence and considering the criteria in EPA Guidelines for classifying a carcinogen,” said the agency in a released statement in early April. “Since then, EPA has monitored emerging research on the carcinogenicity of glyphosate.”
Still, according to Carissa Cyran, chemical review manager for the Office of Pesticide Programs at EPA, the agency has been very active in re-reviewing the question of glyphosate safety to humans. Just last year, EPA reviewed more than 55 epidemiological studies conducted on the possible cancer and non-cancer effects of glyphosate. “Our review concluded that this body of research does not provide evidence to show that glyphosate causes cancer, and it does not warrant any change in EPA’s cancer classification for glyphosate,” wrote Cyran in an e-mail statement to CropLife magazine. “This is the same conclusion reached in 2004 by the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization and affirmed this year by Germany’s pesticide regulatory officials.”
So, she added, EPA is planning to address this debate in the very near future. “In a few months, EPA will be releasing for public comment our preliminary human health risk assessment for glyphosate as part of our research program to re-evaluate all pesticides periodically,” wrote Cyran. “EPA is aware of the recent IARC report and will address it in detail in the preliminary risk assessment.”
So stay tuned. This latest glyphosate safety debate is clearly just getting warmed up . . .