Washington Insider -- Thursday

UN About-Face on Glyphosate

Here's a quick monitor of Washington farm and trade policy issues from DTN's well-placed observer.

States Ask Eleventh Circuit to Proceed with WOTUS Arguments

Arguments should proceed in a challenge to the Environmental Protection Agency's waters of the U.S. (WOTUS) rule before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, even with previous decisions by the Sixth Circuit on the issue, according to a brief filed by a group of states led by Georgia that are challenging the rule.

The states argued that the Eleventh Circuit is not bound by the Sixth Circuit 1-1-1 ruling about the proper jurisdiction for challenges under the Clean Water Act (CWA) to rules such as WOTUS. The states' brief asserted that the court should instead rely on its own legal precedents on the question of court jurisdiction.

The Sixth Circuit decision was "fractured" the states said, again citing the 1-1-1 split. The different legal rationales presented for jurisdiction and review authority in the Sixth Circuit decision also indicate that there is a good chance the Sixth Circuit decision won't stand, the brief noted. Due to the vulnerable legal underpinnings of the Sixth Circuit decision, the states urged the Eleventh Circuit to address the issues themselves and not rely Sixth Circuit decision.

Trade Ministers Meet in Peru to Discuss TPP Ratification Efforts

A meeting between trade ministers from the 12 countries that negotiated the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) was held to discuss the status of each nation's ratification efforts and administrative next steps, U.S. Trade Rep Michael Froman said in Arequipa, Peru.

"We reviewed where each of us are in our domestic approval process," Froman said. "We talked about some of the issues and how we want to work together administratively in terms of taking the TPP forward."

The meeting came on the sidelines of a two-day ministerial meeting of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum that started May 17 and was the first meeting of the TPP ministers since signing the TPP in New Zealand on Feb. 4.

A joint statement after the meeting said the member countries were "working diligently to complete the respective internal procedures" in their respective implementation efforts.

The TPP was ratified by Malaysia, and several other countries, most recently Mexico, have submitted the agreement to their legislatures for ratification. TPP members set a target for all 12 countries to ratify the pact by Feb. 2018.

After Feb. 2018, the agreement would enter into force if it is ratified by at least six countries representing 85% of combined gross domestic product (GDP) of the 12 countries party to the negotiations. In order to reach the 85% threshold, the U.S. and Japan would both have to ratify the agreement.

Washington Insider: UN About-Face on Glyphosate

The question of how links between ag chemicals and diseases like cancer should be understood is far more complicated than you might think. Many of the compounds that help control insects and plant pests can harm human health if consumed in unusually large amounts. As recently as the 1980s, the United States had very tough legal restrictions on many products that were dangerous only if consumed in much larger than normal doses -- a regulatory approach that was subsequently abandoned in favor of the definition of dosage thresholds for safe use.

Then, last year an agency of the UN World Health Organization classified a large number of widely used products as "probably carcinogenic to humans" without regard to thresholds of danger. These included glyphosate, sold under the brand name Roundup, as well as several pesticides and many other widely consumer products -- such as cured meats and coffee.

This week, Bloomberg is reporting that a new UN study contradicts that earlier report to say that the widely used herbicide glyphosate and two insecticides are unlikely to pose carcinogenic risk to human beings when exposed to the body in dietary form.

The study was jointly undertaken by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Health Organization, and was released following a weeklong meeting in Geneva. And, the fact that the new findings directly contradict the 2015 report by WHO's International Agency for Research on Cancer is attracting widespread attention and can be expected to be the center of intense debate.

Bloomberg says the new report was based on an analysis of a "large number" of genotoxicity studies conducted during the past five years that measured the chemicals' effects on living mammals, primarily mice and rats, but also humans. It also claims to have included results of several new studies that were not considered in the 2015 IARC report. "In view of the absence of carcinogenic potential in rodents at human-relevant doses and the absence of genotoxicity by the oral route in mammals, and considering the epidemiological evidence from occupational exposures, the meeting concluded that glyphosate is unlikely to pose a carcinogenic risk to humans from exposure through the diet," the report said.

Though the joint report noted that there is "some evidence" of a positive association between glyphosate exposure and a risk for non-Hodgkin lymphoma, it said the only study of "high quality" found no evidence of an association at any exposure level.

Glyphosate, originally developed by Monsanto under the brand name Roundup is used in more than 750 products related to agriculture, forestry and urban and residential landscaping.

The report was released just days before the European Commission's committee that handles pesticides was scheduled to weigh in on re-licensing glyphosate in the 28-nation EU, Bloomberg said.

"We welcome this rigorous assessment of glyphosate by another program of the WHO, which is further evidence that this important herbicide does not cause cancer," Phil Miller, Monsanto's vice president for global regulatory and government affairs told Bloomberg. "IARC's classification was inappropriate and inconsistent with the science on glyphosate. Based on the overwhelming weight of evidence, the [FAO/WHO report] has reaffirmed the findings of regulatory agencies around the world that glyphosate is unlikely to pose a cancer risk."

CropLife International CEO Howard Minigh commended the report, which he said "confirms prior conclusions of regulators around the world." "It is important to note that the International Agency for Research on Cancer is not a regulator, and uses a narrow set of data to assess potential for hazard; whereas, regulators assess the real risk of a product," he wrote.

The issue of how ag and household chemicals should be regulated is very important, and should be approached with extreme care by those responsible. However, the long-discredited view that "no dose is safe" seriously undercut serious regulatory efforts for many useful products even though it was supported strongly by numerous consumer advocate groups. The previous UN effort appeared to be an effort to return to those days and the current better informed approach appears to be both more effective and sustainable, Washington Insider believes.

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