The decision of a pro-glyphosate lobby to grant public access via reading rooms to proprietary studies on the weed-killer’s safety has been the subject of a new intense row with NGOs.
In late June, the European Commission decided to extend the authorisation licence for glyphosate by 18 months, until the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) gives an opinion on the substance.
ECHA’s opinion is expected no later than 31 December 2017.
Meanwhile, the Glyphosate Task Force (GTF), a consortium of companies promoting the renewal of the European authorisation, decided to facilitate public access to 71 proprietary toxicological industry studies regarding the controversial herbicide.
In a statement, the GTF emphasised that all studies submitted as part of the EU renewal process had been reviewed and analysed by scientific experts of European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and EU member states.
“These experts concluded that glyphosate is unlikely to pose a carcinogenic hazard to humans and that it does not demonstrate mutagenic properties or effects on fertility, reproduction or embryonal development.”
Commission push for transparency
EURACTIV.com has learnt that the decision to provide access to these proprietary studies was partly based on comments made by Health Commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitis in the past months indicating he would welcome a move from the industry in this direction.
Andriukaitis sent a letter on 4 April to the Glyphosate Task Force (GTF) asking for the publication of industry carcinogenicity studies on lab animals, which EFSA used as a basis for its opinion.
European Commission spokesman Enrico Brivio recently told EURACTIV.com that the executive wanted transparency regarding these studies.
“Commissioner Andriukaitis invited the Glyphosate Task Force (GTF) to publish the studies in a letter dated April 4, 2016. The Commissioner remains of the opinion that transparency as regards these studies is needed,” he said.
Reading rooms are not enough
Greenpeace, which supports a complete ban of glyphosate, expressed concerns about the fact that the studies could only be seen in a reading room.
Greenpeace’s food and agriculture director, Marco Contiero, told EURACTIV.com that the pro-glyphosate lobby had failed to address the problem.
“Studies on the safety of chemicals to which human beings and the environment are constantly exposed to must be publicly available, as required by EU law,” he stressed.
Contiero added that for independent scientists, such as those working for the World Health Organisation cancer agency IARC, to assess the safety of such products, all scientific studies should be fully accessible.
“Not a selection of them, only after the assessment has taken place and solely in a reading room,” he underlined.
According to the GTF, very limited information has been redacted from the documents, in line with Article 63 of EU Regulation (EC) No 1107/2009, which governs the authorisation of plant protection products.
Monsanto: An unreasonable position
For Monsanto, which is a member of GTF, reading rooms are a good solution because they offer public access to studies while protecting the business interests of private companies.
Brandon Mitchener, Public Affairs Lead for Monsanto Europe, stressed that some NGOs refused to recognise any scope for confidential business information.
“That is an unreasonable position that is not shared by any government in the world […]. EU law explicitly recognises businesses’ right to keep some data confidential for competitive purposes,” he noted.
“The reading room provides an unprecedented level of access while protecting companies’ legitimate business interests,” Mitchener said.
The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) said in November 2015 that glyphosate was unlikely to cause cancer in humans and proposed higher limits on the amount of residue of the weedkiller deemed safe for humans to consume.
The EFSA advises EU policymakers and its conclusion were expected to pave the way for the 28-member European Union to renew approval for glyphosate, a weedkiller introduced by Monsanto in the 1970s which is used in its top selling product Roundup as well as in many other herbicides around the world.
Environmental groups have been calling for a ban after the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), part of the World Health Organisation, said in March 2015 that glyphosate was “probably carcinogenic to humans”.
A campaign group said that 1.4 million people had signed a petition calling on the European Union to suspend glyphosate approval pending further assessment.
The EFSA said it had carried out a thorough analysis and taken account of the IARC’s findings. Greenpeace, for its part, called the EFSA’s report “a whitewash”.
- By the end of 2017: The European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) expected to give an opinion on glyphosate.