The EU and the European Food Safety Authority have completed a review of glyphosate, a commonly used herbicide, and have concluded that it is “unlikely that this substance is carcinogenic“, a direct contradiction to the World Health Organisation’s “probable carcinogenic” assessment earlier this year. So which do we believe?
IARC, (WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer) report was released in March 2015 and said that although there was no conclusive scientific evidence to show that glyphosate is carcinogenic to humans, there were animal studies that showed tumour growth, which led IARC to its “probable carcinogen” conclusion.
There was an immediate outcry from glyphosate manufacturers claiming that the agency’s evaluation:
“demonstrates serious deficiencies in terms of methodological approach and the overall conclusion is inconsistent with the results of all regulatory reviews concerning glyphosate’s safety profile”
Although you would expect that companies that make the product would object to the finding, there were several international and independent authorities who also questioned the data and the conclusions, such as Oliver Jones of Melbourne’s RMIT, who described the IARC evidence as “a bit thin“.
The EFSA looked at a large body of evidence of both epidemiological studies (those on humans) and animal studies, and included a number of studies that had not been assessed by IARC. All EU Member States of the panel (but one) agreed that there was no demonstrated causality between glyphosate exposure and the development of cancer in humans. It also introduced an ARfD (exposure threshold) for glyphosate of 0.5mg per kilogram of body weight so that future studies looking at glyphosate risk can use this same criterion.
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