Glyphosate Guidance

No health risks associated with proper use of widely used herbicide, but EPA proposes new use measures.

An EPA review finds the herbicide glyphosate to be safe for use, Image by Jim Patrico

The EPA continues to find no human health risks associated with the use of glyphosate and states the herbicide is not a carcinogen. The agency is acknowledging some ecological risks with use of the herbicide, however.

To address these risks, EPA proposed new management measures to help better target applications so as to protect pollinators and reduce the problem of weeds becoming resistant to glyphosate.

Agricultural crops genetically engineered to withstand glyphosate greatly expanded use of the chemistry since 1996. Glyphosate is also used in forestry, urban, lawn and garden applications. That broad use has drawn worldwide attention to the herbicide and to its safety.

While glyphosate was developed by Monsanto, today it is an off-patent chemistry and, as such, is sold by many agriculture companies. It is one of the most widely used herbicides in the world. It came to market in 1974 under Monsanto’s Roundup label for control of perennial and annual weeds in noncrop and industrial areas.

Last year, California regulators failed in an attempt to label glyphosate products as “known to cause cancer.” In addition, court cases where plaintiff’s claim use of the product made them ill seem to be escalating. A California jury in May awarded $2.055 billion in damages to a couple that has battled cancer after decades of using the product. At the end of March, a California jury awarded $80 million to a man with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma who used glyphosate at an animal refuge for nearly 30 years. Last year, another jury in the state awarded $287 million to a groundskeeper with cancer who used the chemical. In all, there are some 11,200 lawsuits aimed at glyphosate.

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CONTROVERSIAL FINDING

In 2015, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), a World Health Organization agency, concluded glyphosate was “probably carcinogenic.”

IARC has come under fire because of its broad declarations about what is and is not carcinogenic. Its summary reports, known as monographs, have also classified processed meats as carcinogenic.

The glyphosate finding set off a series of reactions. The EPA released and then retracted a report refuting the IARC’s conclusion in 2015. At the end of December 2017, EPA announced in its draft risk assessment of glyphosate that the herbicide is not likely to be carcinogenic to humans. Most recently, EPA says its latest conclusions are consistent with that of science reviews by other countries and other federal agencies.

EPA administrator Andrew Wheeler stresses the agency will take additional steps to assure glyphosate’s safety.

“Today’s proposed action includes new management measures that will help farmers use glyphosate in the most effective and efficient way possible, including pollinator protections,” he says. “We look forward to input from farmers and other stakeholders to ensure that the draft management measures are workable, realistic and effective.”

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue says he believes glyphosate is an important tool for farmers.

“If we are going to feed 10 billion people by 2050, we are going to need all the tools at our disposal, which includes the use the glyphosate,” he said in a statement.

“USDA applauds EPA’s proposed registration decision, as it is science-based and consistent with the findings of other regulatory authorities that glyphosate does not pose a carcinogenic hazard to humans,” he concluded.

Once the EPA publishes a public notice in the Federal Register on the review, it will be subject to public comment for 60 days.

FOR MORE INFORMATION:

EPA’s proposed interim decision

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