Is Glyphosate Safe to Use?
In recent months, there has been increased attention on the safety of glyphosate-based herbicide products. As a science and innovation company, we feel a deep responsibility – to our society and planet – and want to reiterate our commitment to sound science and the safe use of our products.
For more than 150 years, Bayer has been dedicated to creating products that help people in our ever-changing world. Our focus has been on new treatments for diseases, helping people get well and stay healthy, and providing farmers and those who care for our land with breakthrough innovations to help nourish our growing world – all while preserving natural resources. We call it Science for a better life.
What do the regulators, like Health Canada, think?
There is an extensive body of research on glyphosate and Bayer’s glyphosate-based herbicides, including more than 800 rigorous studies submitted to Canadian, U.S., European, and other regulators in connection with the registration process—all of which agencies have confirmed that these products are safe when used as directed. Additionally, the largest and most recent epidemiologic study – the 2018 independent National Cancer Institute-supported long-term study that followed over 50,000 pesticide applicators for over 20 years – found no association between glyphosate-based herbicides and cancer. Additionally, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)’s 2017 post-IARC cancer risk assessment examined more than 100 studies the agency considered relevant and concluded that glyphosate is ‘not likely to be carcinogenic to humans,’ the EPA’s most favorable rating. As Health Canada notes in its January 11, 2019 statement, “no pesticide regulatory authority in the world currently considers glyphosate to be a cancer risk to humans at the levels at which humans are currently exposed.”
What about the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC)’s conclusion?
IARC is the only World Health Organization (WHO) entity to find an association between glyphosate and carcinogenicity. The WHO’s International Programme on Chemical Safety and Joint FAO/WHO Meeting on Pesticide Residues (JMPR) found that glyphosate is not carcinogenic, while its Guidelines for Drinking-Water Quality found that glyphosate does not present a hazard to human health.
There are a number of significant limitations and flaws in IARC‘s analysis. Following the IARC report, various regulators, including Health Canada’s PMRA, the U.S. EPA, European Food Safety Authorities (EFSA), European Chemicals Agency (ECHA), German BfR, and Australian, Korean, New Zealand and Japanese regulatory authorities, have reached conclusions which are contrary to IARC’s. These regulators reaffirmed that glyphosate-based products are safe when used as directed and that glyphosate is not carcinogenic.
Of the 514 classification decisions that IARC has made with respect to carcinogenicity in humans, only one time has IARC decided to classify a substance as “probably not carcinogenic to humans.” However, IARC has no regulatory authority and does not conduct its own original scientific research.
IARC expressly acknowledged one study limitation in its 2015 Monograph on glyphosate: it “identifies cancer hazards even when risks are very low at current exposure levels,” which means that IARC’s classifications do not reflect real-world exposure. Exposure is important in determining human causation, which is why epidemiological studies that examine “real world” exposure effects and control for confounding exposures to other chemicals are necessary. IARC also puts everyday substances like red meat and hot beverages in the same carcinogenicity category as glyphosate.
Another limitation is that IARC’s opinion was based on a limited and selective consideration of prior scientific research – as noted, IARC did no original research themselves. IARC’s opinion did not consider data available at the time from the National Cancer Institute-supported Agricultural Health Study – the largest and most recent epidemiological study that followed more than 50,000 licensed pesticide applicators for more than 20 years – which found no association between glyphosate-based products (such as Roundup) and Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma at any level of exposure and for any subtype.
Why do we continue to use glyphosate and can it be used safely?
We believe farmers, consumers and the environment all benefit from glyphosate and glyphosate-tolerant crops. Glyphosate has been transformative for agriculture in countries around the world and is an integral part of modern, sustainable farming. In particular, the use of glyphosate-based herbicides in combination with glyphosate-tolerant crops continues to make positive contributions towards carbon sequestration, greenhouse gas emissions and soil erosion.
However, we understand that some people have questions or concerns about glyphosate or other weed-management innovations used by farmers and other professional applicators. As consumers, parents and community members ourselves, we are eager to share our work and information so people can feel confident about the food they put on their table and the safety of their environment. That is why we have posted over 300 glyphosate safety study summaries online as part of our Transparency Initiative.
We think it’s important to demonstrate the benefits that science and innovation can deliver in agriculture while championing what’s important to people: safe, healthy and affordable food that is produced in an environmentally sustainable manner. Improving access to the science behind our products is a key part of how we operate.
Want to learn more? Visit www.Bayer.com/glyphosate.