HEAL condemns ECHA's assessment as a step backwards in Europe’s fight against cancer
A HEAL report published yesterday shows that scientific evidence proving that glyphosate is carcinogenic has so far been dismissed in the EU scientific assessment that will form the basis for the re-approval discussion of its EU market licence. The serious scientific shortcomings and distortions in the interpretation of EU and international scientific standards highlighted in the report also call into question the validity of the assessment and its preliminary conclusions.
HEAL warns that the failure to recognise the carcinogenicity potential of the substance would mark a step backwards in Europe’s fight against cancer.
As European institutions and member states have started the re-evaluation process of glyphosate in view of a possible renewal, the Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL) closely examined the 11 animal studies provided by pesticide companies in 2019 as part of the application dossier. Together with two renowned experts, HEAL found the occurrence of statistically significant tumours, which clearly supports the International Agency for Research on Cancer’s (IARC) classification of glyphosate as a “probable carcinogen”.
Prof Christopher Portier, an independent expert in the design, analysis, and interpretation of environmental health data with a focus on carcinogenicity, said: “Malignant lymphomas, kidney and liver tumours, skin keratoacanthomas... glyphosate fuels cancer and the list goes on. In ten out of the 11 animal studies that were part of the glyphosate re-approval dossier, we see animals have developed tumours. No matter how you look at it, there is more than enough evidence of carcinogenicity, and this evidence meets the criteria to classify glyphosate as a substance presumed to have carcinogenic potential for humans.”
According to the EU law on pesticides, substances that meet the criteria for classification as presumed carcinogens for human health (category 1B in EU) should be removed from the EU market.
Nevertheless, the Assessment Group on glyphosate (the AGG) and the European Chemicals Agency’s (ECHA) Risk Assessment Committee (RAC) have publicly stated there is not enough evidence that glyphosate causes cancer. Any pointers to scientific incoherences and inconsistencies brought forward by HEAL together with independent scientists and other civil society groups during the ECHA RAC discussions, have so far been completely dismissed.
Dr Peter Clausing, toxicologist and co-author of the report, said: “Animals exposed to glyphosate developed tumours with significantly higher incidences as compared to their unexposed control group, an effect considered as evidence of carcinogenicity by both international and European guidelines. Yet, the EU risk assessors have dismissed all the tumours findings from their analysis, concluding that they all occurred by chance and that none of them was actually related to glyphosate exposure.”
Dr Angeliki Lyssimachou, Senior Science Policy Officer at HEAL and co-author of the report, said: “Scientific proof showing that glyphosate may cause cancer and hence is dangerous to human health keeps piling up – but the EU evaluation continues to be based mainly on the industry’s own arguments, resulting in harmful chemical substances just as glyphosate to be marketed as safe. EU institutions and member states can no longer rely on this dysfunctional scientific assessment to make their decisions. The EU’s mission to beat cancer starts here and now with a ban on glyphosate.”
The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), which is in charge of the peer-review of the pesticide risk assessment of glyphosate, has announced a significant delay for the release of its conclusions. This means that the current licence for glyphosate will inevitably be extended for another year, leaving vulnerable groups at risk of exposure to the harmful pesticide. On the basis of both ECHA’s and EFSA’s opinions, the European Commission and EU member states will take a decision on the requested 15-year renewal licence for glyphosate.
Following the release of the new report, an ECHA spokesperson said: “The findings from the studies conducted with glyphosate were not dismissed but a causal relationship was not established between exposure to the substance and the incidences of tumours observed.”
Responding to ECHA's statement, Dr Lyssimachou told GMWatch, "Although ECHA accepts that animals exposed to glyphosate developed tumours, it doesn't accept that this was due to glyphosate exposure, which raises concerns on the overall interpretation of animal experiment data by ECHA experts."
1. Click here to download the full report.
3. Regulation (EC) No 1107/2009 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 21 October 2009 concerning the placing of plant protection products on the market and repealing Council Directives 79/117/EEC and 91/414/EEC; Annex II, section 3.6 ‘Impact on human health’; https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?uri=CELEX:32009R1107