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U.S. EPA pulls back report saying glyphosate not likely carcinogenic

(Dave Bedard photo)

Chicago | Reuters — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Monday pulled a report offline that concluded glyphosate is not likely to be carcinogenic to humans, saying the document was inadvertently published and the agency had not finished its review of the chemical, a key ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup herbicides.

The 86-page report, seen by Reuters and published Friday on the website that the EPA manages, was from the EPA’s cancer assessment review committee (CARC). It found that glyphosate, the active ingredient in the world’s mostly widely used weedkiller, was “not likely to be carcinogenic to humans.”

The EPA took down the report and other documents on Monday afternoon, saying it did so “because our assessment is not final,” in an emailed statement to Reuters. The agency said the documents were “preliminary” and that they were published “inadvertently.”

But a covering memo that was part of the documents seen by Reuters described the report as the committee’s “final Cancer Assessment Document.” “FINAL” was printed on each page of the report, which was dated Oct. 1, 2015.

The EPA declined to comment on whether the report, or the 13 other documents that were also published and subsequently taken down Monday, indicate whether the agency ultimately will conclude that glyphosate is not carcinogenic.

Glyphosate has been the subject of controversy over whether it is cancer-causing. Last year, the World Health Organization’s cancer arm, the International Agency for Research on Cancer, classified glyphosate as “probably carcinogenic to humans.”

Other government authorities have issued a variety of opinions on glyphosate. The European Food Safety Authority last November said glyphosate was “unlikely to pose a carcinogenic hazard to humans.”

Report “clearly labeled”

Monsanto, whose Roundup herbicide line uses glyphosate as a key active ingredient, responded to the EPA’s document, saying in a statement on Monday that the agency had issued an “official classification” that glyphosate was not likely to be carcinogenic.

Monsanto said the document was “clearly labeled and signed as the final report of EPA’s Cancer Assessment Review Committee,” in an email to Reuters on Monday after the documents had been removed.

The EPA said its documents are part of its broader registration review, which began in 2009, of glyphosate and its potential human health and environmental risks.

“EPA has not completed our cancer review,” the EPA told Reuters in a statement. “We will look at the work of other governments as well as work by (the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’) Agricultural Health Study as we move to make a decision on glyphosate.”

The EPA said its assessment will be peer reviewed and completed by the end of 2016.

A reporter with Bloomberg BNA, a subsidiary of Bloomberg, had posted a link to the documents on Twitter on Monday morning. The EPA documents, while available, sparked strong reactions from critics of the world’s most widely used herbicide.

“All they’re doing is reviewing studies that are funded by the industry,” said Jennifer Sass, a senior scientist at Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental and public health advocacy group.

In addition to the cancer assessment report, the documents that the EPA removed included summaries of three 2015 meetings between EPA officials and Monsanto; preliminary ecological risk assessments of glyphosate on milkweed, which is key to the health of monarch butterflies; a report discussing possible label amendments to two of Monsanto’s Roundup products when used on oilseeds, fruit and other crops; and a six-slide Monsanto presentation to the EPA officials.

P.J. Huffstutter reports on agriculture and agribusiness for Reuters from Chicago.

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