Europe’s gardeners and farmers probably won’t have their Monsanto Roundup weed killer or other similar herbicides taken away from them now that the influential European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has found that the ingredient glyphosate is unlikely to cause cancer in humans. Glyphosate, which has been around since the 1970s, is used in herbicides around the world, including Monsanto’s popular Roundup. EFSA’s research findings appear to trump the conclusion this past March by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), which listed glyphosate as “probably carcinogenic to humans.” EFSA’s assessment will be used by the European Commission in deciding whether to keep glyphosate on the EU list of approved active substances. Currently, glyphosate is widely used in both Roundup and in generic brands of herbicides for home gardening and agriculture. Glyphosate toxicity should be reduced by lessening its dose, but the substance is not likely to be genotoxic or damaging to DNA, according to the EFSA assessment. EFSA also proposed a new safety measure to limit glyphosate residues in food. A group of EFSA scientists and representatives from risk assessment bodies in EU Member States set an acute reference dose of 0.5 mg per kg of body weight, the first time such an exposure threshold has been applied for glyphosate. “Glyphosate is not proposed to be classified as carcinogenic under the EU regulation for classification, labeling and packaging of chemical substances,” EFSA says. “In particular, all the Member State experts but one agreed that neither the epidemiological data (i.e., on humans) nor the evidence from animal studies demonstrated causality between exposure to glyphosate and the development of cancer in humans.” EFSA also says its assessment included more evidence and studies than the IARC’s. The latter, which is associated with the World Health Organization (WHO), looked at both glyphosate and glyphosate-based formulations. “The EU assessment, on the other hand, considered only glyphosate. Member States are responsible for evaluating each plant protection product that is marketed in their territories,” EFSA says. “This is important, “ continues EFSA, “because although some studies suggest that certain glyphosate-based formulations may be genitoxic (i.e., damaging to DNA), others that look solely at the active substance glyphosate do not show this effect. It is likely, therefore, that the genotoxic effects observed in some glyphosate-based formulations are related to the other constituents or ‘co-formulants.’” This means that some formulations have higher toxicity than the active ingredient. They suggest some of the formations need further consideration by the EU Member States. “This distinction between active substance and pesticide formulation mainly explains the differences in how EFSA and IARC weighted the available data,” the assessment says. EFSA’s findings aren’t the first to support continued glyphosate use since the IARC report came out. In April, the Canadian Pest Management Regulatory Agency concluded that “the overall weight of evidence indicates that glyphosate is unlikely to pose a human cancer risk.” Glyphosate use carries additional political baggage because Monsanto uses genetic engineering to create seeds that are resistant to the weed killer.
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