LONDON, April 21 Politicians who attack the EU agency that ruled the weedkiller glyphosate probably does not cause cancer are in danger of undermining the effectiveness of a body that is key to keeping Europeans safe, its chief warned.
Bernhard Url, executive director of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), said his agency is facing unprecedented criticism after concluding in November 2015 that glyphosate – one of the world’s most widely used pesticides and an ingredient in Monsanto’s big seller Roundup – was “unlikely to pose a carcinogenic hazard to humans”.
Attempts to discredit his agency over its assessment were “unacceptable and short-sighted”, he told Reuters in a rare interview, accusing his critics of undermining science to pursue a “political agenda”.
“If political actors discredit scientific organisations because they don’t like the outcome in one out of 100 cases, they diminish the reputation of an organisation that they as policymakers will need to rely on in future,” he said. “From a political perspective it’s very unwise”.
An international dispute over glyphosate’s possible risks to human health has prompted investigations by congressional committees in the United States, and in Europe has forced a delay to a re-licensing decision for Roundup. The EU decision is now due by the end of 2017.
The row erupted after the International Agency for Research on Cancer, a semi-autonomous part of the World Health Organization (WHO), said in March 2015 that glyphosate was “probably carcinogenic”.
Many other regulators besides the EFSA have since determined it does not pose a cancer risk, however, including the European Chemical Agency (ECHA), the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and a joint committee of the WHO and the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
Opposition in the European Union has been driven by the European Parliament’s Greens-European Free Alliance and by others, including Greenpeace and a group of scientists led by Christopher Portier from the U.S.-based non-governmental organisation, the Environmental Defense Fund.
Greenpeace called the EFSA review a “whitewash” that “defied the world’s most authoritative cancer agency in order to please corporations like Monsanto”. Portier and more than 90 scientists signed an open letter to European Health Commissioner urging EU authorities to ignore the EFSA’s opinion.
The Green alliance asked the EFSA to withdraw its assessment and last month urged European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker to delay a decision on glyphosate until the dispute has been sorted out. It says the EFSA review was unduly influenced by industry-backed studies.
Members of the European parliament (MEPs) have “serious concerns regarding the influence of industry on some of the studies used in their assessment,” Bart Staes, the alliance’s food safety spokesperson, told Reuters in an email on Friday.
Several MEPs have asked for all the studies…