WHO Asked To Square Its Position On Herbicide; EU Evaluation Seen As Flawed

Does glyphosate, better known under its brand name RoundUp, increase the risk of cancer in humans, or not? Yesterday, some World Health Organization members, while hailing a draft resolution on cancer later adopted, underlined a lack of coordination on glyphosate between the WHO and its agency for cancer research. Separately, a renowned scientist sent a letter to European Commission President, Jean-Claude Juncker, saying the evaluations on the herbicide are flawed, and should be done again to safeguard public health. 

The cancer resolution adopted yesterday by WHO members in committee at the World Health Assembly, taking place from 22-31 May, and expected to be formally adopted today, includes a request for the WHO “to enhance the coordination between IARC [the WHO International Agency for Research on Cancer] and other parts of WHO on assessments of hazards and risks, and on the communication of those assessments.”

WHO Contradicts Its Cancer Research on Herbicide

Japan said cancer has been the leading cause of death in the country for the last three decades. The delegate also remarked on an issue of coordination between the WHO IARC and other WHO departments. The IARC and WHO released contradictory information on the carcinogenic risk to humans of glyphosate. He said this could mislead the public and is bad for coherence. IARC and WHO should have the same take on cancer prevention, the delegate said.

Brazil also asked for better coordination between IARC and WHO and better communication of assessments to the public. This was echoed by the US.

In May 2016, according to the summary of a Joint Meeting on Pesticide Residues (JMPR) of UN Food and Agriculture Organization and WHO, it was concluded that “glyphosate is unlikely to pose a carcinogenic risk to humans from exposure through the diet.”

In March 2015, the IARC had classified [pdf] glyphosate as “probably carcinogenic to humans.”

A WHO page with frequently asked questions on food safety notes that “IARC reviews published studies to identify potential cancer hazards. It does not estimate the level of ‘risk’ to the population associated with exposure to the hazard.”

In contrast, JMPR reviews both published and unpublished studies to assess the level of health risk to consumers associated with dietary exposure to pesticide residues in food, it says, adding that “JMPR’s risk assessment found out that based on the weight-of-evidence approach these compounds are unlikely to cause cancer in people via dietary exposure.”

International Scientists Finds EU Evaluation Flawed

Meanwhile, on 28 May, Prof. Christopher Portier, former head of several US agencies, one of which is the US National Center for Environmental Health, sent a letter to Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European Commission concerning “serious concerns” regarding the evaluation of glyphosate by the European Food Safety Agency (EFSA), and the European Chemical Agency (IEChA).

The letter [pdf], published by the Corporate Europe Observatory, alleges that both EFSA and EChA failed to identify all statistically significant cancer findings in studies on rats with glyphosate, and both agencies inappropriately dismissed some findings.

In the letter, Portier says the evaluations applied to the glyphosate data are scientifically flawed, “and any decisions derived from these evaluations will fail to protect public health.” He called for the evaluations to be repeated.

“I firmly support the principle that scientific evidence should be used to help guide societal decisions about health risks to humans,” the letter states. “However, the individual scientific studies must be carefully summarized and reviewed if their findings are to serve as a true guidance. The glyphosate hazard classification appears to have been a good example of how lack of transparency regarding the scientific evidence that underlies important public health decisions can erode public trust and raise concerns.”


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