EU says cancer risk from popular weedkiller ‘unlikely’

Expo Milan

The French pavilion at Expo Milano 2015. [Henriette Jacobsen]

The EU’s food safety agency on Thursday (12 November) said that one of the world’s most popular weedkillers was “unlikely” to cause cancer, putting it at odds with findings by the UN.

Glyphosate was first used as the active ingredient in the herbicide Roundup, manufactured by US agri-giant Monsanto, and is now made generically around the world.

EFSA concluded “that glyphosate is unlikely to pose a carcinogenic hazard to humans and the evidence does not support classification with regard to its carcinogenic potential according to (EU regulation)”.

However, the agency is proposing a limit on the maximum safe daily dose, of 0.5 milligrams per kilogram of body weight. That means an 80 KG person could eat food containing 40 milligrams of glyphosate per day for the rest of their life.

The findings counter those of the UN’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), which said in March that Roundup was “probably” carcinogenic.

>>Read: French court upholds poisoning case against Monsanto

Monsanto crops are specifically engineered to resist glyphosate-based products, allowing farmers to douse fields indiscriminately with the herbicide to kill weeds.

Anti-GMO activists were outraged by the decision, accusing the EU of giving in to pressure from Monsanto and other powerful European food lobbyists.

“EFSA’s safety assurances on glyphosate raise serious questions about its scientific independence,” said Greenpeace policy expert, Franziska Achterberg.

“Much of its report is taken directly from unpublished studies commissioned by glyphosate producers,” said Achterberg.

EFSA’s conclusion will be used by the European Commission to decide whether to extend the current approval period for glyphosate, which ends on 31 December.

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) is the EU agency that provides independent scientific advice and communicates on existing and emerging risks associated with the food chain. The Authority was established in February 2002, and is based in Parma, Italy.

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