EPA reaffirms safety of glyphosate weed killer

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has reaffirmed that the weed killer chemical, glyphosate, is safe and not likely to be carcinogenic to humans.

German chemicals and pharmaceuticals firm Bayer AG is currently facing around 42,700 lawsuits in the USA claiming that its glyphosate-based pesticide, Roundup, causes cancer.

However, in its interim registration review decision published on 22 January, the EPA said it had “thoroughly evaluated potential human health risk associated with exposure to glyphosate and determined that there are no risks to human health from the current registered uses of glyphosate and that glyphosate is not likely to be carcinogenic to humans”.

The EPA did find that glyphosate presented “low or limited potential risks” in birds and mammals.

Bayer said on 31 January that glyphosate products were the most widely used herbicides in the world.

“The EPA’s latest decision adds to the long-term evaluation of leading international health authorities that these products can be used safely,” said Bayer board of management member Liam Condon.

The agency said that it had completed a usage analysis for glyphosate by analysing agricultural market research data from 2012 to 2016.

“Approximately 281M pounds (127,460 tonnes) of glyphosate was applied to 298M acres (120.6M ha) annually in agricultural settings, on average. Most glyphosate was applied to soyabean (117.4M pounds or 53,252 tonnes/year), corn (94.9M pounds or 43,056 tonnes/year), and cotton (20M pounds or 9,072 tonnes/year). Many citrus fruits, field crops (eg soyabean, corn, cotton) and tree nuts have the highest percentage of their acres treated with glyphosate.”

Around 24M pounds or 10,886 tonnes/year of glyphosate were also applied to non-agricultural sites annually.

According to a 24 January Bloomberg report, Roundup claims have surged since a trio of jury verdicts awarded plaintiffs almost US$2.5bn last year, increasing pressure on Bayer to settle. Bayer was appealing the earlier verdicts, which judges had slashed to US$191M.

Bayer acquired the Roundup brand as part of its US$63bn acquisition of US biotech and agrichemicals firm Monsanto last year.