EPA’s release of its revised assessment of the cancer-causing potential of glyphosate (the main ingredient in the weedkiller Roundup), is just what we’d imagine Monsanto, and the rest of the agribusiness giants, would’ve asked for this holiday season.
To the surprise of no one, this year’s assessment remains relatively unchanged from last year’s, finding that glyphosate is “not likely to be carcinogenic to humans.”
Despite suggestions from the agency’s divided panel of independent scientists and countless public pleas to reject industry studies, EPA appears as determined as ever to produce a cancer assessment that favors the pesticide industry's bottom line over public health.
Under federal regulations, EPA must reregister pesticides every 15 years, a process that includes a cancer risk assessment. EPA published a draft cancer assessment for glyphosate in September 2016 that gave glyphosate the lowest possible cancer rating.
In November 2016, EPA convened its Scientific Advisory Panel (SAP), where a group of independent scientists reviewed the assessment and heard comments from the public and from industry representatives. I testified on behalf of Food & Water Watch, expressing concern over EPA’s overreliance on industry studies and downplaying of positive findings of carcinogenicity.
The SAP was split on its support of EPA’s cancer findings, with some panelists suggesting that EPA upgrade its cancer classification to “suggestive evidence of carcinogenic potential.” Others criticized the agency’s non-transparent method for selecting studies and inconsistent interpretation of animal studies. In fact, the Panel concluded that EPA did not follow its own Guidelines for Carcinogenic Risk Assessment.
Nevertheless, EPA’s updated draft assessment incorporated few revisions. The agency stands behind its bizarre and inconsistent methods for selecting studies and interpreting data. EPA goes so far as to say that its own risk assessment guidelines “are intended as guidance only” as a way to circumvent criticism over its methods. In the end, the agency retains its original finding that glyphosate is “not likely to be carcinogenic to humans.”
A lot has changed in the 15 months since EPA released its draft assessment that should have caused the agency to be more critical in its revised assessment.
- A series of damning emails were uncovered last spring, documenting how Monsanto worked with the former EPA official in charge of glyphosate’s cancer assessment to support a cancer finding favorable to industry. The same official reportedly “killed” a cancer review planned by another federal agency.
- Additional emails between Monsanto employees detail the company’s strategy to twist science in their favor, including ghostwriting scientific papers and paying scientists to sign on as authors. EPA relied heavily on work by three of these authors in its earlier draft assessment, and kept them in the revised assessment despite mounting evidence that the authors’ conflicts of interest should have disqualified them.
- Over a quarter of a million individuals commented on EPA’s initial draft assessment, including tens of thousands sent by Food & Water Watch supporters urging EPA to ban Roundup until it completes an unbiased assessment.
EPA will open another comment period on the revised assessment in 2018. Let’s hope the agency will finally listen to its Scientific Advisory Panel and the public by producing a transparent, scientifically-rigorous assessment of the most widely used pesticide in the world.