Court rules glyphosate health risk studies must be public
In a landmark decision, the EU Court of Justice ruled today that the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) was wrong to refuse access to toxicity studies related to glyphosate, a controversial pesticide.
The confidential studies were at the heart of EFSA’s favourable assessment of glyphosate, which led to the pesticide’s approval in the EU in 2018, despite a warning by the World Health Organisation linking it to cancer.
Greenpeace EU food policy director Franziska Achterberg said: “Today's judgement is a big step towards transparency and accountability in EU decision-making. People have the right to know the foreseeable health and environmental impacts of EU decisions on products like pesticides, and the Court has vindicated this right. It is shocking that EFSA needed to be reminded in court that its mission is to defend public health, not to protect the commercial interest of glyphosate's manufacturers.”
EFSA had denied access to studies and information requested by the environmental consultant Anthony C. Tweedale and by Members of the European Parliament Heidi Hautala, Michèle Rivasi, Benedek Jávor, and Bart Staes.
EFSA justified its refusal on the grounds that disclosure of the requested information could have harmed the commercial and financial interests of the companies which had submitted the studies and that there was no overriding interest supporting the disclosure.
The Court found EFSA's decision to be in breach of EU rules on transparency.
The Court’s ruling
First, the Court stated that the interest in public access to information which relates to the release of chemicals into the environment overrides the protection of commercial interests.
Second, the Court recognised that by virtue of its use, glyphosate is intended to be discharged into the environment. Therefore, according to the Court, “Its foreseeable emissions cannot, therefore, be regarded as purely hypothetical. In any event, glyphosate emissions cannot be classified as merely foreseeable emissions.” In particular, according to the Court, glyphosate emissions into the environment are a reality, since the active substance “is present particularly as residues in plants, water and food".
Finally the Court decided that “The public must have access not only to information on emissions as such, but also to information concerning the medium to long-term consequences of those emissions on the state of the environment, such as the effects of those emissions on non-targeted organisms. The public interest in accessing information on emissions into the environment is specifically to know not only what is, or foreseeably will be, released into the environment, but also to understand the way in which the environment could be affected by the emissions in question.”