Worldwide, glyphosate is one of the most commonly used ingredients in pesticides. As is the case with all other pesticide ingredients, this substance is regularly reevaluated within the context of EU materials testing in terms of its health and environmental risks and its effectiveness. The German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (Bundesinstitut für Risikobewertung: BfR) performs the evaluations.
In their final report, the experts at the BfR determined that according to current scientific knowledge, proper use of glyphosate poses no carcinogenic risk for humans. The BfR reviewed and evaluated more than 1,000 studies, documents, and publications.
A completely different result was reached by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), which operates under the aegis of the World Health Organization (WHO), in its most recent Monograph on Glyphosate. IARC scientists rate glyphosate as likely carcinogenic in the monograph.
How did such different evaluations arise?
The spokesperson of the Glyphosate Working Group (Arbeitsgemeinschaft Glyphosat: (AGG), Ursula Lüttmer-Ouazane, believes that the differences “are related to the fundamentally different approaches taken [by each group], because the IARC expressly does not evaluate risk, but only identifies possible dangers.” In fact, the IARC highlights this difference in the preamble to its monograph: The differentiation between danger and risk is decisive, and the authors of the monograph also examine the dangers of cancer when the risks are very limited in current exposure because future use or unpredictable exposures could provoke risks that are significantly higher.
It is difficult for a risk evaluator to determine the risks that the use of glyphosate actually involve. In actual practice, pure glyphosate is never sprayed on fields. On the contrary, the substance is always only an ingredient in a pesticide mixture. The IARC has counted more than 750 different glyphosate compounds around the world. Many of these compounds contain substances that have long been prohibited in Europe.
Based on the uncertainty and broad public discussion, the BfR has published Questions and Answers About Glyphosate and Pesticides Containing Glyphosate (in German only) online.
What happens with glyphosate now?
The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) will develop a recommendation for the European Commission based on the BfR report. Only the European Commission, in agreement with all European member states, can decide on the approval or renewed approval of a pesticide ingredient.