The controversial weedkiller glyphosate, which is used by Monsanto in its herbicide Roundup, is “unlikely” to cause cancer, a United Nations finding said Monday, in a blow to critics who have called for its ban.
Last month, the European parliament urged the EU to only approve glyphosate’s use for seven years instead of 15 as requested by the bloc’s top regulator amid fears that the product could be carcinogenic.
A review carried out by pesticide experts from the World Health Organization and the Food and Agriculture Organization said “glyphosate is unlikely to pose a carcinogenic risk to humans from exposure through the diet.”
That appeared to contradict a March 2015 finding from the WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) which said glyphosate “probably” caused cancer.
WHO said the two findings were not contradictory.
It said the IARC finding was based on whether glyphosate could potentially pose any “hazard” to human health, including in extremely high levels of exposure.
The joint WHO/FAO panel reviewed all available evidence to assess specific risk to people consuming limited quantities of the chemical through food.
The earlier WHO finding was cited by activists led by Greenpeace who called for the ingredient’s outright ban.
In March, regulators from the 28 EU members states, in addition to the European Commission, delayed their decision on rolling over the approval for glyphosate amid fierce lobbying from both sides of the issue.
The EU pesticides committee is set to meet on Wednesday to decide on whether to extend glyphosate’s licence.
The latest UN findings could tip the decision in favour of agriculture giant Monsanto, which has fought hard to secure market approval for its key product.
Among major EU member states, France and Austria have expressed opposition to glyphosate, while Britain and Germany are said to support its use generally.
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, which was brought into use by Monsanto in the 1970s and 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”.
- European Parliament: Glyphosate: authorise for just seven years and professional uses only, urge MEPs
- Monsanto: Press release