See Carey Gillam’s article in The Guardian, Corporate studies asserting herbicide safety show many flaws, new analysis finds (July 2, 2021). In this post we provide links to the 53 once-secret studies and related materials.
Questions about the safety of glyphosate-based herbicides (GBHs) have persisted for years, as scientific research has split over whether or not the widely used weed killing chemical introduced by Monsanto in the 1970s causes cancer or other human health problems.
A number of independent studies show links between glyphosate herbicides and cancer and other health problems, leading the International Agency for Research on Cancer in 2015 to classify glyphosate as a probable human carcinogen.
But Monsanto, purchased by Bayer AG in 2018, has maintained glyphosate is not carcinogenic, nor does it cause other health problems when used as directed. Other large chemical companies that sell glyphosate or related products echo Monsanto’s safety assurances.
Regulators in Europe and the United States, Canada and elsewhere have affirmed the corporate assertions of glyphosate safety. They point to decades of tests conducted by or for the companies that have not been published but which regulators have reviewed, as well as published studies in the scientific literature.
The corporate studies have long been kept secret, even by regulators. But in Europe, litigation by a group of European Parliament lawmakers led to the release of dozens of such studies.
A consumer advocacy group, SumOfUs, provided more than 50 studies to two independent scientists for review – Armen Nersesyan and Siegfried Knasmueller, both from the Institute of Cancer Research, Department of Medicine at the Medical University of Vienna.
Knasmueller, the lead author, is an expert in genetic toxicology and along with his work at the cancer institute is editor-in-chief of two prominent scientific journals, including Mutation Research – Genetic Toxicology and Environmental Mutagenesis.
The goal of the evaluation was to determine if the industry studies examined comply with current international guidelines for chemical testing. The studies are those concerning the genotoxic properties of glyphosate.
The resulting analysis was released July 2, 2021 and concluded that the bulk of the industry studies were outdated and did not meet current guidelines. An array of shortcomings and flaws were found in the studies, rendering most of them unreliable, according to the analysis.
In fact, of the 53 studies submitted to regulators by the companies, only two were acceptable under current internationally recognized scientific standards, said Knasmueller.
Knasmueller said there are more reliable methods for detecting carcinogens but those were not used in the industry tests. Read the evaluation here.
Regulatory renewal sought
The analysis of the older studies comes as the companies that sell glyphosate products are seeking reauthorization in Europe and trying to fight against calls for restrictions and bans on glyphosate across the globe.
In June 2021, the European Union’s (EU) Assessment Group on Glyphosate (AGG) issued an 11,000-page draft report concluding that glyphosate is safe when used as directed and does not cause cancer. The finding is based in part on a dossier of roughly 1,500 studies submitted to European regulators by the “Glyphosate Renewal Group (GRG),” a collection of companies that includes Bayer.
Bayer confirmed that the older studies were included in the new dossier given to European regulators, but said the GRG was “required to submit all genotoxicity studies that have been conducted, including those submitted in past registration review cycles.” The company said the dossier also includes “new genotoxicity studies conducted since the previous re-approval of glyphosate and a vast review of thousands of published scientific publications regarding glyphosate.”
The companies are seeking the renewal of the EU authorization of glyphosate. Current authorization in Europe expires in December 2022. The companies say they also gave regulators a “literature review” of around 12,000 published scientific articles on glyphosate.
The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) are organizing public consultations to start in September.
The Knasmueller analysis drew both criticism and support from a mix of scientists who reviewed the work. Here are two comments:
Paul Demers, director of the Occupational Cancer Research Centre, Ontario Health, in Canada:
“The classification of the carcinogenicity of glyphosate has been particularly contentious with international bodies disagreeing not only on areas of interpretation but even on which studies to consider. The critical evaluation, using the latest OECD criteria, of 53 studies submitted to Bundesinstitut für Risikobewertung and European Food Safety Authority is a valuable contribution to the ongoing debate on the carcinogenicity of glyphosate. The observation by the authors that few of these studies met the OECD criteria should be considered by regulatory authorities tasked with protecting workers and the public. Personally, I agree with the approaches for evaluation taken by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, which were used for glyphosate. That said, I also believe that there needs to room for scientific debate and disagreements on issues of interpretation, criteria for evaluation, and even what studies to include. However, there should not be a debate on transparency when it comes to the evidence considered by public bodies in determining the safety of chemicals. Studies of health effects, with sufficient details regarding the methods used and the results, need to be accessible and open to the critical eyes of the scientific community and other concerned parties.”
Raymond Tice, retired scientist, U.S. National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, former President of the U.S. Environmental Mutagen Society: “An analysis of the experimental data supporting the safety of any chemical should be conducted using systematic review methodology… which takes into account not only the completeness of the information but also categorizes the risk of bias, whether positive or negative. Clearly, this was not conducted by EFSA or by Dr. Knasmueller. In general, it is not appropriate to disregard all studies that do not meet current standards, but rather to consider the results in terms of their limitations. Overall, It seems to me that Knasmueller is selective (i.e., exhibits bias) in what he presents and does not present. At the same time, I would fault EFSA for not doing due diligence in what they considered… Also, I agree that there is a suggestion that (glyphosate) is linked to the induction of oxidative stress which can result in DNA damage (i.e., oxidative stress is one of the key characteristics of carcinogens) but would be expected to have a threshold below which damage is not likely to result in an adverse effect.”
See the full analysis, authors’ comments, industry summaries, a list of studies submitted for the current European Union re-authorization, and links to 53 previously secret corporate glyphosate studies below: