The European Union’s Assessment Group on Glyphosate (AGG) recently released an 11,000-page draft report concluding that glyphosate, the world’s most widely used herbicide, does not warrant being declared carcinogenic (see exact wording below).1 If adopted by the AGG, it will add to the long list of health agencies that have declared the world’s most widely used herbicide to be non-carcinogenic.
The AGG is comprised of national authorities of France, Hungary, the Netherlands and Sweden. The report will now be considered by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA).
Roundup® is the brand name of a systemic, broad-spectrum glyphosate-based herbicide originally produced by Monsanto, which Bayer acquired in 2018. Glyphosate, N-(phosphonomethyl)glycine, is the most widely used herbicide in the United States and the world. The safety profile of glyphosate, which has been extensively examined, is relevant to soybeans because about 90% of U.S. soybeans are sprayed with this herbicide.
The safety of glyphosate was called into question when, in 2015, the World Health Organization’s cancer authorities – the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) – determined that glyphosate is “probably carcinogenic to humans” (Group 2A).2 However, this conclusion is at odds with the position of other health agencies and organizations and with the conclusions of a new European draft report.1
Glyphosate kills plants by inhibiting the activity of an enzyme (5-enolpyruvylshikimate-3-phosphate synthase, EPSPS) involved in the synthesis of the aromatic amino acids phenylalanine, tyrosine, and tryptophan.3 Roundup Ready® (RR) soybeans, as they are called, are able to survive glyphosate because they have been engineered to express an alternative form of EPSPS that functions normally even in the presence of glyphosate. The EPSPS gene used in RR plants comes from a bacterium.
Health agencies across the globe have declared glyphosate not to be carcinogenic (see list below). In fact, in the same year that IARC determined that glyphosate is probably carcinogenic to humans, the German Risk Agency concluded: “The lack of a plausible mechanism, along with published epidemiology studies, which fail to demonstrate clear, statistically significant, unbiased and non-confounded associations between glyphosate and cancer of any single etiology, and a compelling weight of evidence, support the conclusion that glyphosate does not present concern with respect to carcinogenic potential in humans.”4
The European Commission granted a five-year approval for glyphosate in 2017. It is currently approved for use in the European Union until December 15, 2022.5 Once ECHA has adopted its opinion, EFSA will finalize its peer review and publish its conclusions, expected in late 2022. Based on this risk assessment, the European Commission will decide on the renewal of glyphosate.
Exact wording of draft European report on the carcinogenicity of glyphosate
“Taking all the evidence into account, i.e., animal experiments, epidemiological studies and statistical analyses, and based on the considerations in the Guidance on the Application of the CLP [Good Laboratory Practice] criteria, the AGG does not consider the criteria for classification with respect to carcinogenicity in Regulation (EC) No 1272/2008 and the dedicated guidance document to be fulfilled. The AGG proposes that a classification of glyphosate with regard to carcinogenicity is not justified.”
List of agencies/organizations that have concluded glyphosate is not carcinogenic
- U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
- Health Canada
- European Food Safety Authority
- European Chemicals Agency
- Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
- French Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health & Safety
- German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment
- Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicine Authority
- Federal Food Safety and Veterinary Office (Switzerland)
- Environmental Protection Authority (New Zealand)
- National Health Surveillance Agency (Brazil)
- Food Safety Commissions of Japan
- Rural Development Association (S. Korea)
- Procedure and outcome of the draft Renewal Assessment Report on glyphosate, June 2021 https://ec.europa.eu/food/system/files/2021-06/pesticides_aas_agg_report_202106.pdf.
- IARC Monograph on Glyphosate. https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=2ahUKEwjSlLTHkrrxAhXpAp0JHbGQC9oQFnoECAIQAA&url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.iarc.who.int%2Ffeatured-news%2Fmedia-centre-iarc-news-glyphosate%2F&usg=AOvVaw3888Cqp9TrYYpQGr4WFChx.
- Steinrucken HC, Amrhein N. The herbicide glyphosate is a potent inhibitor of 5-enolpyruvyl-shikimic acid-3-phosphate synthase. Biochem Biophys Res Commun. 1980;94:1207-12.
- Greim H, Saltmiras D, Mostert V, et al. Evaluation of carcinogenic potential of the herbicide glyphosate, drawing on tumor incidence data from fourteen chronic/carcinogenicity rodent studies. Crit Rev Toxicol. 2015;45:185-208.
- Glyphosate: EU regulators begin review of renewal assessments https://www.efsa.europa.eu/en/news/glyphosate-eu-regulators-begin-review-renewal-assessments.