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The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) Monographs Programme identifies chemicals, drugs, mixtures, occupational exposures, lifestyles and personal habits, and physical and biological agents that cause cancer in humans and has evaluated about 1000 agents since 1971. Monographs are written by ad hoc Working Groups (WGs) of international scientific experts over a period of about 12 months ending in an eight-day meeting. The WG evaluates all of the publicly available scientific information on each substance and, through a transparent and rigorous process,1 decides on the degree to which the scientific evidence supports that substance's potential to cause or not cause cancer in humans.
For Monograph 112,2 17 expert scientists evaluated the carcinogenic hazard for four insecticides and the herbicide glyphosate.3 The WG concluded that the data for glyphosate meet the criteria for classification as a probable human carcinogen.
The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) is the primary agency of the European Union for risk assessments regarding food safety. In October 2015, EFSA reported4 on their evaluation of the Renewal Assessment Report5 (RAR) for glyphosate that was prepared by the Rapporteur Member State, the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR). EFSA concluded that ‘glyphosate is unlikely to pose a carcinogenic hazard to humans and the evidence does not support classification with regard to its carcinogenic potential’. Addendum 1 (the BfR Addendum) of the RAR5 discusses the scientific rationale for differing from the IARC WG conclusion.
Serious flaws in the scientific evaluation in the RAR incorrectly characterise the potential for a carcinogenic hazard from exposure to glyphosate. Since the RAR is the basis for the European Food Safety Agency (EFSA) conclusion,4 it is critical that these shortcomings are corrected.
The human evidence
EFSA concluded ‘that there is very limited evidence for an association between glyphosate-based formulations …
Contributors All authors to this commentary have participated in its development and approve the content. MCB, FF, LF, CWJ, HK, TR, MKR, IR and CS were all participants in the IARC WG. CJP was an Invited Specialist in the IARC WG. Many of the remaining authors have also served on IARC Working Groups that did not pertain to glyphosate.
Competing interests CJP, MTS and DDW are providing advice to a US law firm involved in glyphosate litigation. CJP also works part-time for the Environmental Defense Fund on issues not related to pesticides.
Provenance and peer review Commissioned; externally peer reviewed.