Environmentalists say they have “grave concern” at the finding by the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) that glyphosate is not a carcinogen.
The Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL) voiced “disappointment” at the ruling.
The opinion from ECHA’s Committee for Risk Assessment directly contradicts that of the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), which classified glyphosate as a ‘probable carcinogen’ in 2015.
Génon Jensen, Executive Director of HEAL called the decision a setback for cancer prevention, saying, “We expect that in the future, IARC will be recognised as having been right. But meanwhile, Europe is set to give glyphosate the green light and therefore public health will lose out on an important opportunity for cancer prevention.
“Cancer rates can be brought down by taking hazardous chemicals off the market,” she said.
HEAL, she said, had been working for many years to gain greater attention to the health impacts of exposure to glyphosate and other chemicals.
Calls to remove glyphosate from the market have been part of a strategy in cancer prevention supported by the Association of European Cancer Leagues as well as HEAL members working on cancer prevention.
The ECHA’s decision paves the way for Brussels to make a final decision on the chemical which is used in Monsanto's key herbicide, Roundup.
Others welcomed the decision, including British Tory MEP Julie Girling, the ECR group’s European Parliament spokesman on the environment. Girling is also a member of the Parliament’s Agriculture Committee.
She said “the opinion confirms what the EU and other scientific bodies have been saying since this debate began in 2015.”
Girling added, “It also represents the first step in restoring certainty for farmers so that they can continue responsibly using this important substance to provide the public with safe and nutritious food.”
The European Crop Protection Association’s, Graeme Taylor welcomed the committee’s opinion saying, “This classification is consistent with the existing 90,000 pages of evidence, 3300 peer-reviewed studies, the opinions of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) and regulatory agencies worldwide – glyphosate is not carcinogenic.”
The British National Farmers’ Union (NFU) also welcomed the ECHA’s finding that the scientific evidence ‘did not meet the criteria to classify glyphosate as a carcinogen, as a mutagen or as toxic for reproduction’, with NFU vice president Guy Smith saying, “We welcome the classification of glyphosate by the ECHA which reinforces its safety.
“The overwhelming weight of evidence shows that glyphosate poses no risk to human health when used correctly. This opinion is shared by regulatory bodies around the world, including the World Health Organisation, the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the UN and the European Food Safety Authority.”
Glyphosate products are also widely used by gardeners and for weed control in forestry and aquatic environments. More than 300 glyphosate herbicides from more than 40 different companies are currently registered for sale in Europe, many of which are available in gardening and hardware stores.
European Commission spokesperson Enrico Brivio stressed that the executive “took notice” of ECHA’s opinion which was “based on scientific evidence”.
He noted, though, that this is not the end of the process since the draft opinion will now be subjected to an editorial check-in with ECHA before being formally submitted to the Commission.
“The submission of the final opinion to the Commission is expected before the summer break. After submission of the final opinion, the Commission services will re-start their discussions with the member states as regards the approval of glyphosate as an active substance in plant protection products”, said Brivio.