Public kept in the dark on Roundup link with birth defects
*Industry knew since 1980s, regulators since 1990s*
Earth Open Source
Press release for immediate release, 7 June 2011
Industry and EU regulators knew as long ago as the 1980s-1990s that Roundup, the world's best selling herbicide, causes birth defects but they failed to inform the public. This is the conclusion of a new report, "Roundup and birth defects: Is the public being kept in the dark?" co-authored by a group of international scientists and researchers and released today.
The report reveals that industry's own studies (including one commissioned by Monsanto) showed as long ago as the 1980s that Roundup's active ingredient glyphosate causes birth defects in laboratory animals.
The German government has known about these findings since at least the 1990s, when as the "rapporteur" member state for glyphosate, it reviewed industry's studies for the EU approval of the herbicide. The European Commission has known since at least 2002, when it signed off on glyphosate's approval.
But this information was not made public. On the contrary, regulators have consistently misled the public about glyphosate's safety. As recently as last year, the German Federal Office for Consumer Protection and Food Safety, BVL, told the Commission there was "no evidence of teratogenicity" (ability to cause birth defects) for glyphosate.
BVL made this comment in its rebuttal of an independent scientific study published last year by Argentine scientists. The study showed that Roundup and glyphosate cause birth defects in frogs and chickens at concentrations much lower than those used in agricultural spraying. The study was prompted by reports of high rates of birth defects and cancers in areas of South America growing genetically modified (GM) Roundup Ready soy, which is engineered to tolerate being sprayed liberally with glyphosate herbicide.
In its rebuttal of the Argentine study, BVL cited as proof of glyphosate's safety the industry studies submitted for the Commission's 2002 approval of glyphosate (the approval that is currently in force).
But the authors of the new report obtained the approval documents and found that contrary to BVL's claim, industry's own studies, conducted in the 1980s and 1990s, showed that glyphosate/Roundup causes birth defects in experimental animals. In some cases, these effects occurred at low doses.
The German authorities and the EU Commission's ECCO expert review panel whitewashed the findings and the Commission approved the herbicide.
Claire Robinson, a co-author of the new report and spokesperson for the sustainability NGO Earth Open Source, which published it, said, "This looks like a thirty-year cover-up by industry and regulators and it has certainly placed the public at risk. Roundup is used not only by farmers but by home gardeners and in school grounds and other public areas, in part because of false marketing claims that it is safe."
Commission delays review of glyphosate
A new, more stringent pesticide regulation comes into force in the EU this June. An objective review of glyphosate under this new regulation would almost certainly result in a ban. This is because under the regulation, independent studies have to be taken into consideration. Many of these studies, summarised in the new report, show that glyphosate and Roundup cause birth defects, cancer, genetic damage, endocrine disruption, and other serious effects, often at very low doses.
Glyphosate was due to be reviewed in 2012. But late last year, the Commission quietly passed a directive delaying the review of glyphosate and 38 other pesticides until 2015.
Moreover, in 2015, glyphosate will be reviewed under lax, outdated standards. This is because the Commission has failed to complete the data requirements (the tests that industry has to do) for the new regulation in time for industry to do the new tests. So glyphosate will likely sail through its 2015 review and will not be reviewed under up-to-date, more stringent data requirements for another 15 years, in 2030.
Claire Robinson said, "Glyphosate could get a free regulatory ride until 2030, at a time when biotech companies are pressuring the EU for permission to cultivate glyphosate-tolerant GM seeds in Europe. This would lead to a huge increase in the use of glyphosate in Europe, as has happened in North and South America. The beneficiary of the Commission's delay will be the pesticide industry; the victim will be public health.
"The Commission must cancel the delay and conduct an immediate review of glyphosate and Roundup, taking into consideration the independent scientific literature. In the meantime, it must apply the precautionary principle and withdraw the herbicide from use in Europe until the review has been completed."
1. Antoniou, M., Habib, M., Howard, C.V., Jennings, R.C., Leifert, C., Nodari, R. O., Robinson, C., Fagan, J. 2011. Roundup and birth defects: Is the public being kept in the dark? Earth Open Source. June. http://www.scribd.com/doc/57277946/RoundupandBirthDefectsv5
2. BVL, Germany. 2010. Glyphosate Comments from Germany on the paper by Paganelli, A. et al. (2010): "Glyphosate-based Herbicides Produce Teratogenic Effects on Vertebrates by Impairing Retinoic Acid Signaling". October 19. http://www.powerbase.info/index.php/File:BVL2010.comments.Paganelli.pdf
3. Paganelli, A., Gnazzo, V. et al. 2010. Glyphosate-based herbicides produce teratogenic effects on vertebrates by impairing retinoic acid signaling. Chem Res Toxicol 23(10): 1586 1595.
4. This review role is now performed by the EFSA's PPR Panel.
5. European Commission. 2010. Commission Directive 2010/77/EU of 10 November 2010 amending Council Directive 91/414/EEC as regards the expiry dates for inclusion in Annex I of certain active substances. OJ L 230, 19.8.1991.
6. The detailed reasons for this delay are explained in the new report. Details as above.