Europe's food safety agency reportedly relied on a review that lifted language from a Monsanto report when concluding that the possible cancer-causing ingredient in the company's popular weed-killer Roundup is safe, raising concerns that the agency failed to properly analyze the pesticide's potential dangers.
"If regulators rely on the industry's evaluation of the science without doing their own assessment, the decision whether pesticides are deemed safe or not is effectively in the industry's hands."
—Franziska Achterberg, Greenpeace"If regulators rely on the industry's evaluation of the science without doing their own assessment, the decision whether pesticides are deemed safe or not is effectively in the industry's hands," said Greenpeace's European Union (EU) food policy director, Franziska Achterberg, who added that this discovery "calls into question the entire EU pesticide approval process."
The European Food Safety Authority's (EFSA) official stance on glyphosate—Roundup's key ingredient that the World Health Organization determined is "probably carcinogenic to humans"—is likely to influence an upcoming, hotly contested vote by the 28 EU member states over whether to approve a 10-year renewal of the pesticide's license.
According to an exclusive Guardian report published on Thursday night, EFSA based its conclusion that "glyphosate is unlikely to pose a carcinogenic hazard to humans and the evidence does not support classification with regard to its carcinogenic potential" on a 2015 renewal assessment report prepared by Germany's Federal Institute for Risk Assessment, or BfR, at the EFSA's behest.
"Dozens of pages" of that renewal assessment report, writes Arthur Nelsen for the Guardian, "are identical to passages in an application submitted by Monsanto on behalf of the Glyphosate Task Force (GTF), an industry body led by the company."
"These sections," he continues, "analyze peer-reviewed studies into links between glyphosate and genotoxicity (how likely it is to cause cell mutations), carcinogenicity, and reproductive damage," including a study by one former and one current Monsanto employee.
An EFSA spokesperson told the Guardian that "these are extracts from and references to publicly available studies submitted by the applicant as part of their obligation under the pesticide legislation to carry out a literature search," and thus, "these are not Glyphosate Task Force studies but rather studies available in the public scientific literature."
"Even so," Nelsen notes, "the EFSA paper repeats descriptions—and analyzes—verbatim from the 2012 GTF review," with some cuts and minor changes to headings and tables, capitalizations, and spelling.
Greenpeace's Atcherberg said that "whether this is a question of negligence or intent, it is completely unacceptable," and now, "voting against glyphosate is the last opportunity our governments have to fulfill their duty to protect us."
In July, European Health and Food Safety Commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitis said the EU will only renew glyphosate's license, which expires at the end of the year, if it is supported by member states.
In a decision that will determine whether farmers across the continent will be allowed to continue using one of the world's most popular pesticides, the EU is expected to vote by or before early November. At least 16 of 28 member states, representing at least 65 percent of the EU's total population, would need to vote in favor of the renewal for it to take effect.
All eyes have been on France and Germany, which are under pressure from farmers to offer their approval but have abstained from past votes, forcing incremental renewals—most recently, in June 2016, when the license was extended for 18 months.
While the French environment ministry announced in August that France will vote against the renewal, Germany's vote will depend on the results of its federal election later this month. "Chancellor Angela Merkel, who is seeking a fourth term, has backed glyphosate," as Reuters reports, "but has not found enough support in her coalition government."