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22nd Jan 2022

Researchers slam EU safety review of glyphosate

  • EU authorisation of glyphosate expires in December 2022 - but is set to be renewed next year (Photo: Global Justice Now)
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Researchers have slammed an initial EU agreement on Friday (26 November) which decided that the controversial and widely-used weedkiller glyphosate is safe.

The EU's authorisation of glyphosate expires in December 2022 but is set to be renewed next year, and has now received an initial positive safety review.

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According to an independent review by cancer researchers, the EU decision is based on a faulty analysis performed by the German pharmaceutical and chemical giant Bayer - one of the biggest producers of glyphosate-based products in the world.

Researchers connected to Global2000, an independent Austrian environmental organisation, found that 33 out of 35 studies Bayer based its recommendation on were incomplete.

Global200 found only two studies were reliable. Another 15 were "partly reliable", and 18 were not reliable.

"None of the most important knowledge gaps were addressed," lead author Siegfried Knasmüller said in a statement.

The manufacturer has omitted well-known studies using modern methods that show glyphosate damages DNA in the liver and other inner organs.

Test systems used in the research Bayer based its conclusions on are more than 30 years old. "The models used in these studies detect only five to six out of 10 carcinogens," according to Knasmüller.

In 2015, the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) also concluded there is "strong evidence" exposure to glyphosate can cause DNA damage.

But the officials in the Assessment Group on Glyphosate (AGG) - consisting of EU member states France, Hungary, the Netherlands and Sweden - rejected these studies and concluded that glyphosate is safe and could be re-licensed.

"Now it appears that the EU is repeating the same mistake," Knasmüller said.

In 2019, a US court found that Roundup - a Bayer-produced glyphosate-based herbicide - probably causes cancer and Bayer had acted maliciously in hiding this fact.

€9bn in settlements already

The company has since been targeted by more than 125,000 lawsuits from plaintiffs who claim the use of glyphosate contributed to their non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. The company has already paid out almost €9bn in settlements last year.

"Worryingly, these industry-sponsored studies are now at the heart of the current EU market approval process of Glyphosate," Angeliki Lyssimachou, a science policy officer at the Brussels based NGO Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL) said.

EU officials have in the past refused to share details of the manufacturer's literature studies, but a March 2019 ruling by the European Court of Justice (ECJ) found this was illegal.

This allowed independent researchers to review the materials for the first time.

In a separate development this week, the incoming German coalition government agreed to cut the use of the weedkiller and remove glyphosate from the market by the end of 2023.

"The writing is on the wall for glyphosate," Global2000 researcher Helmut Burtscher Schaden said in a statement. "Yet here we see EU officials deliberately baking in another relicensing. That is bad."

A final decision on glyphosate will be taken by EU member states next year.

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