In the spring of 2015, the International Agency for Research on Cancer, a special group under the World Health Organization, classified glyphosate as a Class 2A probable carcinogen. At the time, I wrote a piece putting that classification into perspective and explaining what it actually means.
One of the things I mentioned in the article is that IARC doesn’t actually conduct any new research to make its classification. Rather, it looks at research that has already been published to determine whether evidence exists to make the classification. The review for glyphosate was no different – IARC reviewed already available studies to classify glyphosate as a probably carcinogen.
As I also mentioned in the original article, this classification was at odds with the conclusion reached by multiple government agencies around the world that have found glyphosate does not cause cancer. These include the US Environmental Protection Agency, the German Risk Agency, and the European Crop Protection Agency, among others.
And now we have even more groups of scientists that are making the same conclusion – there is no link between glyphosate and cancer.
European Food Safety Authority
The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) is an agency funded by the European Union, which operates as a body independent of the other EU governmental agencies. It was legally established in 2002 to be a source of scientific advice and communication on risks associated with food. EFSA’s responsibility is to review food risk assessment, rather than deal with risk management policy, and communicate its scientific findings to the public.
Although the EFSA had already reviewed glyphosate as recently as 2013, after the IARC’s findings, it was again commissioned to review the available scientific research. Just as in the United States, the EU does periodic reviews of all chemicals so as to reassess safety and renew approval for their use.
In the report, which was released at the end of November, the EFSA concluded:
In contrast to the IARC evaluation, the EU peer review experts, with only one exception, concluded that glyphosate is unlikely to pose a carcinogenic hazard to humans and the evidence does not support classification with regard to its carcinogenic potential.
According to Jose Tarazona, head of the pesticides unit at the EFSA based in Italy, said:
This has been an exhaustive process – a full assessment that has taken into account a wealth of new studies and data… Regarding carcinogenicity, it is unlikely that this substance is carcinogenic.
The EFSA advised EU policymakers to renew approval for glyphosate. Of course, just as in the United States under the EPA, limits and rates of application were prescribed.
You can read all of the documents published by the EFSA related to this inquiry here.
Another panel of 16 scientists from the United States, Canada, Germany, and the United Kingdom also reviewed the available scientific data and reached the opposite conclusion as IARC. After looking at the exact same data that IARC looked at, they failed to see any mechanism by which glyphosate would cause cancer.
The panel concluded the following:
• Glyphosate doesn’t cause cancer in lab rats.
• Glyphosate is not genotoxic, meaning it doesn’t cause cellular damage or mutations.
• Credible, high quality epidemiological studies do not show a link between glyphosate exposure and cancer.
As part of the panel’s conclusion, they noted:
IARC’s equivalent working groups’ reviews suffered from significant weaknesses such as: selectivity in the choice of data reviewed, failure to use all relevant biologic information to evaluate relationship to treatment in animal bioassays, and failure to use weight-of-evidence evaluations using all available data and appropriate weighting.
Naturally, people criticize this panel and its conclusions, although they are consistent with a large number of governmental organizations, because it was commissioned by Monsanto. Putting aside this illogical and irrational obsessive hatred of Monsanto, that hardly means that the conclusion is any less legitimate. It only makes sense that a company would commission such a review to question the results reached by IARC, which were really very questionable.
But just because Monsanto asked Intertek to assemble the panel of experts, which you can find here and includes some very highly educated people, doesn’t mean that the conclusions aren’t completely valid. As David Garabrant, a University of Michigan epidemiologist, said: “We should focus on the quality of the analysis and the quality of the comments, not the affiliation of the author.” This is so important to point out — look at the context and stop just assuming everything is part of a big conspiracy theory.
In any case, both the EFSA and the Intertek panel concluded what many scientists and governmental agencies said at the time the IARC classification came out – what the heck?! The research available just does not support such a classification, especially when we consider real world application and exposure rates. Remember: IARC Is just one one body that reviews these types of things and makes such classifications. The bottom line is that the conclusions by EFSA and Intertek should be reassuring to consumers.