NEWS: EU defers vote to re-authorise glyphosate
Published 9 Mar 2016
Breast Cancer UK has welcomed the news that the European Commission has delayed a decision on whether glyphosate should be re-authorised due to concerns over whether it is carcinogenic.
Glyphosate-based weedkillers are the most commonly used pesticides worldwide (1) The EU license for glyphosate use will expire at the end of June, 2016 and this week EU member states were due to vote on whether it should be re-authorised for a further 15 years. However, following interventions by 4 key member states, the vote has been postponed.
France, the Netherlands, Italy and Sweden do not support the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) assessment of glyphosate, which concluded in November 2015, that glyphosate is “unlikely to pose a carcinogenic hazard to humans”(2). This is particularly significant as the 2009 EU pesticides regulation forbids active substances which can cause cancer from being used as pesticides. The EFSA conclusion was based on work done by the German Federal Risk Assessment institute, BfR, and is counter to the World Health Organisation’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) assessment that glyphosate is a “probable human carcinogen” (2A group)(3). The contents and conclusions of the EFSA report have been questioned by over 90 leading scientists from around the world, who wrote an open letter to the European Health and Food Safety Commissioner, Vytenis Andriukaitis, challenging EFSA’s decision and questioning the credibility and transparency of the BfR report (4). Furthermore, six European NGOs have filed a formal complaint against those responsible for the assessment of glyphosate, for denying that it causes cancer(5).
An evaluation of glyphosate by the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) in the context of the European legislation on classification, labelling and packaging (CLP) is due to take place in 2016. The commission will now wait for ECHA’s report before voting on glyphosate re-authorisation.
Although no links between glyphosate and breast cancer have been demonstrated, there is evidence that glyphosate acts as an oestrogen mimic(6) and so may increase breast cancer risk. Breast Cancer UK welcomes the news that the vote on re-authorisation has been postponed and urges the Commission to consider all the available evidence, including the IARC report, and vote against re-authorization for general use.
(1) Guyton, K. Z. et al. (2015). Carcinogenicity of tetrachlorvinphos, parathion, malathion, diazinon, and glyphosate. Lancet Oncology 1 6(5): 490-1. http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lanonc/article/PIIS1470-2045(15)70134-8/abstract
(2) EFSA (2015). European Food Safety Authority. Conclusion on the peer review of the pesticide risk assessment of the active substance glyphosate. EFSA Journal 2015: 13:4302. http://www.efsa.europa.eu/sites/default/files/scientific_output/files/main_documents/4302.pdf
(3) Guyton, K. Z. et al. (2015). op cit
(4) Portier, C. J. et al. (2015). Open letter: Review of the Carcinogenicity of Glyphosate by EFSA and BfR. November 27 2015 http://www.zeit.de/wissen/umwelt/2015-11/glyphosat-offener-brief.pdf
(5) PAN (2016) Pesticides action network press release March 2, 2016. http://www.pan-europe.info/press-releases/2016/03/2-march-2016-glyphosate-re-authorisation-ngos-join-forces-demand-legal-action
(6) Thongprakaisang, S. et al. (2013) Glyphosate induces human breast cancer cells growth via estrogen receptors. Food and Chemical Toxicology 59: 129-136. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23756170