The European Chemicals Agency (ECHA), on Tuesday, ruled that "after a thorough review and analysis of the scientific evidence, it is again concluded that a classification glyphosate carcinogen isn't warranted." This assessment opens the door to a 2023 extension of the authorization for glyphosate within the European Union. The authorization for Europe's most-sold herbicide in the world expires in December. However, it will be renewed automatically unless there is a specific risk.
The European Chemicals Agency still considers glyphosate to be "damage to eyes" or "toxic to aquatic environment". The European Environmental Bureau, ClientEarth, and the Alliance for Health and the Environment, on the other side, stated in a joint press statement that they are "alarmed" by the European Agency's failure to classify glyphosate a carcinogen.
ECHA does not publish the same opinion five years ago, without considering a number of important factors. This decision is not in honor of ECHA. "We are very angry. We have the impression they live in another dimension," Francois Veillerette, spokesperson of Future Generations, a French NGO that supports sustainable agriculture, tells us.
Glyphosate has been accused of causing cancers in farmers. In March 2015, the WHO International Agency for Research on Cancer classified the product as a "probable cancer-causing agent" for men. In March 2015, the WHO International Agency for Research on Cancer classified the product as a "probable carcinogen" for men. Other agencies like the National Food Safety Agency, Anses, consider the evidence to be too weak to declare glyphosate unsafe.
ECHA is one of the regulatory agencies that rely on standard tests offered by manufacturers to prove their expertise. Researchers and NGOs rely on academic research published in scientific literature. ECHA is not the same organization in terms of structure as the IARC. It consists of a group of experts who are selected to perform work to assess the danger of products on the basis a manufacturer's studies, within a legal framework," explains David Demortain (sociologist at Inrae, author of Glyphosate, the trap of privatizing public knowledge). The IARC, on the other hand, is more open to this evaluation framework.
David Demortain says, "It's more about the completeness or depth of the knowledge." ECHA has to consider whether the ECHA list of studies is comprehensive and broad enough, considering all of the research on glyphosate published in the years before it expertise. ECHA must adhere to certain criteria in selecting studies for expertise. These criteria include good laboratory practices, the application of protocols recommended for the OECD and what experts call the "strength" of evidence.
ECHA reviews the studies to see if they have followed good laboratory practices. It is expensive and no university lab can afford to track it. Francois Veillerette laments that they are all being downgraded. He points out that in the United States, Bayer is losing all its lawsuits based upon these scientific studies.
The glyphosate group consisting of France, Hungary and the Netherlands must submit an updated opinion at the European Food Safety Agency's (EFSA) end September. This is because it is the agency's opinion that will be used to assess "all possible exposure to glyphosate" for humans, animals and the environment. The publication of the notice was originally scheduled for July 2022. However, it was delayed to July 2023 to allow hundreds of contributions to be considered. Francois Veillerette regrets that "we know that risk assessment has been systematically flawed" and that "relying on that leaves little chance."
Glyphosate should still be authorised for a year while the EFSA provides its opinion. Francois Veillerette hopes this year will serve a purpose and that the EFSA will review and consider the scientific literature on the subject.
Future Generations hopes that if the EFSA agrees that glyphosate is not a particular risk, Future Generations believes that states will base their decisions on science and vote against glyphosate's authorization. "If the French state believes that its public research is valid, it can vote against Inserm. Francois Veillerette concludes, "The ball is in their favor."