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EU report declares glyphosate safe despite UN results

November 13, 2015

The EU has found that glyphosate, the main ingredient in some herbicides and many other products across the world, is not likely to cause cancer in humans. Experts recommend raising the safe limit of exposure.

Symbolbild Gentechnik Anbau Genmais
Image: picture-alliance/dpa

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) said glyphosate, a key ingredient in the Monsanto-made herbicide Roundup, is unlikely to cause cancer in humans through a report on Thursday.

The agency advises the European Commission and its report could lead the 28-member European Union to renew approval of the herbicide. Back in March, the UN's International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) had classified products containing glyphosate as "probably" carcinogenic.

The EFSA is proposing to set a higher safe limit of human exposure to glyphosate, at 0.5 milligrams per kilogram of bodyweight. The previous EU evaluation had set an acceptable daily intake of 0.3 milligrams per kg of body weight.

Results contested

Anti-GMO activists were outraged by the decision, accusing the EU of giving in to pressure from powerful European lobbyists in the agricultural business.

Keeping glyphosate legal is hugely important for US-based Monsanto, which is looking to expand worldwide sales of genetically modified crops that are regarded with suspicion in much of Europe. Monsanto crops are specifically engineered to resist glyphosate based products, allowing farmers to douse fields with extensive amounts of the herbicide to kill weeds.

USA Monsanto Herbizid Roundup
Image: picture-alliance/AP Photo/J. Roberson

EFSA scientists, who worked with experts from EU member countries, said their study differed from the IARC's in that it considered only glyphosate, whereas the IARC had assessed groups of related chemicals. They said the toxic effects could be related to reactions with other ingredients.

Greenpeace called the EFSA's report "a whitewash" through its European Twitter account and requested the EFSA to provide the unpublished referenced studies in their report.

Monsanto has been involved in controversial cases around the globe. Its herbicides and pesticides have been said to pollute water sources and cause major health issues. The company has denied such claims, citing an absence of available data.

European Commission spokesman Enrico Brivio said the Commission took note of the report and said EU regulators had until June next year to take a decision.

hf/rc (AFP, Reuters)