Glyphosate does not cause cancer ... if you read about it over the weekend.
That was the conclusion of a report published online by the Environmental Protection Agency on Friday, April 29, 2016, finally shutting down a 30-year debate by giving a definitive answer to a hotly contested topic. But, by Monday, May 2, it was gone.
The report, “Evaluation of the Carcinogenic Potential of Glyphosate," was published by the Cancer Assessment Review Committee (CARC), the branch of the EPA that determines if a chemical causes cancer in humans.
The cover page states:
“On September 16, 2015, the Cancer Assessment Review Committee (CARC) of the Health Effects Division, of the Office of Pesticide Programs, evaluated the carcinogenic potential of Glyphosate in accordance with the EPA's Final Guidelines for Carcinogen Risk Assessment. Attached please find the final Cancer Assessment Document.”
The final document – with the word “FINAL” found on the top right corner of each of the 87 pages.
So, that sounds pretty final.
Until the EPA removed the final report from its website.
In order to fully appreciate why this matters so much, we need to understand a little about the long and tumultuous history of this debate.
Glyphosate is the most widely used herbicide (vegetation killer) in the United States. It was originally developed by Monsanto and first sold in 1974 under the name "Roundup." Although people may think that Monsanto and glyphosate go hand in hand, Monsanto lost its patent in 2000, resulting in the incorporation of glyphosate into hundreds of products sold by multiple companies.
When the use of glyphosate was exploding in the mid-80s, the EPA classified it as a “possible human carcinogen.” Since then, glyphosate was recommended to be classified as Group D in 1986 (not enough data to tell if it's a carcinogen or not) and Group E in 1991 (evidence of non-carcinogenicity in humans). Which brings us to last year, when the branch of the WHO dedicated to determining if compounds cause cancer, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), recommended a classification of Group B (probably carcinogenic). The report that was on the EPA's website over the weekend is highly critical of last year's recommendation by the IARC, however, stating that its conclusion was based on a review of the scientific literature that was not comprehensive.
Long overdue is one, final, all-encompassing report that would finally, once and for all, clarify whether or not glyphosate causes cancer. And, we had it on April 29 – until we didn't anymore.
This comprehensive report analyzed multiple different studies, with the conclusion on page 77 entitled "CLASSIFICATION OF CARCINOGENIC POTENTIAL."
Here it states:
- Glyphosate is classified as “Not Likely to be Carcinogenic to Humans.”
- The epidemiological evidence at this time does not support a causal relationship between glyphosate exposure and solid tumors.
- There is also no evidence to support a causal relationship between glyphosate exposure and the following non-solid tumors: leukemia, multiple myeloma or Hodgkin's disease.
- The epidemiological evidence at this time is inconclusive for a causal or clear associative relationship between glyphosate and Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma.
- In experimental animals, there is no evidence for carcinogenicity. Dietary administration of glyphosate at very high doses for up to two years produced no evidence of carcinogenic response in seven separate studies with male or female rats.
- The same held true with mice.
- Based on a weight of evidence from a wide range of assays looking at genetic mutation, chromosomal damage, DNA damage and repair, there is no genotoxic or mutagenic concern for glyphosate.
So, why would such a comprehensive report with a clear conclusion be removed from the website? The EPA told Reuters, in an email, that its assessment was not final (a particularly odd word choice for a report presenting their "final" guidelines) and that the documents were "preliminary." The agency also stated that the "final" (final) report will be published later this year. Finally.