June 22, 2024

Citing new scientific research, a coalition of farm worker, public health and environmental advocates on Wednesday filed a legal petition with US regulators demanding they immediately suspend authorization for the controversial weed-killing chemical called glyphosate.

The petition, filed with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), alleges that the chemical does not meet the required safety standard set by federal law and the EPA has “no valid assessment demonstrating otherwise”.

If the EPA fails to address the petition, the groups said they will take the agency back to court, where the groups last year successfully garnered a judicial finding that the EPA’s most recent assessment of glyphosate was deeply flawed.

The legal petition comes less than 10 days after the publication of a new scientific study that lends fuel to critics who say glyphosate herbicide products can cause cancer.

In a paper published 6 December, National Institutes of Health cancer scientists said they found markers of genotoxicity in male farmers with high uses of glyphosate. The authors said their work suggested glyphosate “could confer genotoxic” effects, and amount to “novel evidence regarding the carcinogenic potential of glyphosate”. The study was published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.

The journal also published an accompanying opinion article from environmental and occupational health researchers who called the new study “important new evidence” that should be considered in evaluating glyphosate safety. The study was the largest of its kind and provides “mechanistic support for genotoxicity of glyphosate”, the researchers wrote.

“There is really compelling new science out there,” said Bill Freese, science director with the Center for Food Safety, the group leading the legal petition. “It’s becoming increasingly untenable for the agency to deny the cancer hazard.”

Glyphosate is the most heavily applied herbicide in history, both in the US and globally. One of the best-known glyphosate-based products is Monsanto’s Roundup weedkiller. Roundup has been used by farmers as well as consumers for more than 40 years. Officials with Monsanto and its German owner, Bayer AG, have always assured the public and regulators that exposure to the weedkiller does not pose a threat to human health.

The EPA has also said glyphosate is safe when used as directed, but last year a three-judge panel of the ninth US circuit court of appeals determined that the EPA ignored important studies and applied “inconsistent reasoning” in finding that the chemical does not pose “any reasonable risk to man or the environment”.

The court vacated the human health portion of the EPA’s glyphosate assessment and said the agency needed to apply “further consideration” to evidence. The ninth circuit also said the agency violated the Endangered Species Act in its assessment.

Following the court decision, the EPA said it was withdrawing all remaining portions of its interim registration review decision for glyphosate and would “revisit” its evaluation of glyphosate. The agency has continued to maintain, however, that there is no human health safety concern with glyphosate when used as directed.

The agency had no immediate comment on the filing of the petition.

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The groups state in their petition that the court ruling in effect makes continued use of glyphosate illegal under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (Fifra).

The petitioning groups include the Center for Food Safety, Organización en California de Líderes Campesinas, Beyond Pesticides, Rural Coalition, the Farmworker Association of Florida, and Alianza Nacional de Campesinas, Inc.

“Farm worker women and their families have experienced the damaging health effects of pesticides for far too long,” Mily Treviño-Sauceda, executive director of Alianza Nacional de Campesinas, said in a statement. “EPA must protect the nation’s farm workers and our environment by immediately suspending and cancelling all glyphosate registrations.”

People are exposed to glyphosate by using products made with the chemical and also by eating food and drinking water contaminated with the pesticide. Scientists have found glyphosate residues in an array of popular foods and in waterways across the US.

Bayer remains mired in litigation brought by tens of thousands of cancer patients who claim exposure to Roundup caused them to develop non-Hodgkin lymphoma. The company has lost the last several trials and been ordered by US juries to pay billions in damages to plaintiffs since the litigation began. As well, Bayer has paid out more than $11bn to settle thousands of claims outside of trials.

This story is co-published with the New Lede, a journalism project of the Environmental Working Group

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