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What are environmental and health regulators saying about IARC’s glyphosate classification?

Category: Health

Many organizations including Canada’s Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA), the United States EPA, and the European Food Safety Authority have concluded that glyphosate does not pose a cancer risk when used according to regulations and label directions.

International reaction by the world’s leading health regulatory authorities to the March 15, 2015 IARC (International Agency for Research on Cancer) classification of glyphosate has been swift and consistent. On March 23, 2015, the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR), which carried out the health risk assessment of glyphosate on behalf of the European Community, concluded that the human health risk assessment has assessed glyphosate as non-carcinogenic (BfR, 2015) . The BfR noted that based on its evaluation of over 30 epidemiological studies, it came to the overall assessment that there is no validated or significant relationship between exposure to glyphosate and an in-creased risk of non-Hodgkin lymphoma or other types of cancer. On April 11, 2015, the US EPA declared (US EPA, 2015) that in 1991 it concluded that glyphosate should be classified as a Group E (evidence of non-carcinogenicity for humans) based on a lack of convincing carcinogenicity evidence and considering the US EPA criteria for classifying a carcinogen. The US EPA also noted that its assessment in 2014 included review of over 55 epidemiological studies conducted on the possible cancer and non-cancer effects of glyphosate. The US EPA concluded that the totality of this body of research does not provide evidence to show that glyphosate causes cancer, and it does not warrant any change in EPA’s classification of non – cancer for glyphosate. On April 13, 2015, the PMRA declared (PMRA, 2015) that in consideration of the strength and limitations of the large body of information on glyphosate, which included multiple short and long term (lifetime) animal toxicity studies, numerous in vivo and in vitro genotoxicity assays, as well as the large body of epidemiological information, the overall weight of evidence indicates that glyphosate is unlikely to pose a human cancer risk. The PMRA concluded that an evaluation of available scientific information found that products containing glyphosate do not present unacceptable risks to human health or the environment when used according to the proposed label directions. It should also be noted that the US EPA had previously affirmed its position on the non-carcinogenicity of glyphosate in 1993 US EPA, 1993) and then again in 2013 (US EPA, 2013) ; as did the WHO (2004) Joint meeting on Pesticide Residues 2004.

In April 2015, the PMRA released their latest review of glyphosate and declared that the weight of evidence indicates that glyphosate does not present unacceptable risk to human health. The full PMRA glyphosate review can be found here or please visit here for a summary version of the full PMRA review.

Recent developments

On May 16, 2016, a special meeting of the joint Food and Agriculture Organization and World Health Organization of the United Nations was held to re-evaluate glyphosate and other compounds in light of new studies that had become available since their last full assessment. The meeting concluded that glyphosate is unlikely to pose a carcinogenic or genotoxic risk to humans from exposure through the diet.

The safety of glyphosate has also been confirmed by New Brunswick's Acting Chief Medical Officer of Health, Nova Scotia's Chief Public Health Officer and the Chief Science Officer of the Public Health Agency of Ontario. 

The distinction between hazard and risk is important in understanding the difference between what appears to be contradictory conclusions from IARC and the WHO. IARC considers the potential for a substance to cause harm under some circumstances, while regulatory agencies such as the PMRA, US EPA and the European Food Safety Authority, consider the likelihood (risk) of observing negative effects under realistic exposure levels. Regulatory agencies around the world, including PMRA, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA), the World Health Organization (WHO), and the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) have, for many years, consistently concluded that registered uses of glyphosate in accordance with label directions do not pose a cancer risk, or any other risk, to human health.

BfR. Budesinstitut fur Risikobewertung, Communication No 007/2015, 23 March 2015

US EPA Desk Statement. Issued April 1, 2015

PMRA. PMRA Proposed Re-evaluation Decision PRVD2015-01A. April 13, 2015

US EPA. Glyphosate Reregistration Eligibility Decision. 1993.

US EPA. Federal Register. Vol. 78, No. 84 . Wednesday, May 1, 2013. Rules and Regulations

WHO. Joint FAO/WHO Meeting on Pesticide Residues. Pesticide residues in food. WHO/PCS/06.1. 2004.

WHO. Joint FAO/WHO Meeting on Pesticide Residues. Summary Report. May 16, 2016