EFSA opinion Glyphosate is not carcinogenic | Breast Cancer UK

EFSA opinion Glyphosate is not carcinogenic

Published 13 Nov 2015

Breast Cancer UK is disappointed that the EU’s Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has concluded that glyphosate is not carcinogenic.

EFSA’s opinion  on the health and environmental risks associated with glyphosate, concluded that it is not carcinogenic (1) despite a report published in March 2015 by the WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) which classified glyphosate as a probable carcinogen in humans(2).

EFSA’s assessment and recommendation to the European Commission is now almost certain to result in its re-authorisation, which will mean that glyphosate will continue to be widely used here in the UK.

Glyphosate-based herbicides (weedkillers) are the world’s most abundantly used pesticides both in agriculture and domestically. It is found in many domestic garden weedkillers and is commonly used to control weeds in many public spaces including parks and schools. 

A coalition of NGO’s, including Breast Cancer UK, recently called for a ban on the use of glyphosate where it results in the greatest public and worker exposure, either directly or through residues in food.

The decision of EFSA is based on a peer review expert committee made up of EFSA scientists and representatives from risk assessment bodies in EU Member States. The committee does acknowledge there is evidence of harm, and has set an exposure threshold dose (known as acute reference dose) of 0.5 mg per kg of body weight.    

Currently glyphosate is not classified as an endocrine disrupting chemical despite evidence that it has endocrine disrupting properties and acts as an oestrogen mimic (3). It is because of its ability to mimic oestrogen that Breast Cancer UK has concerns about its widespread use and public exposure, as it is widely accepted that oestrogen (both naturally occurring and synthetic) is important in breast cancer risk.  Breast Cancer UK is currently funding research led by Dr Michael Antoniou into the oestrogenic properties of glyphosate and its formulations

Dr Antoniou, Head of the Gene Expression and Therapy Research Group at Kings College London explains why this is such a disappointing conclusion,

“Whilst they acknowledge that glyphosate based herbicides with their added adjuvants, as used commercially, are genotoxic (ie can damage DNA and thus be potentially contributory to cancer formation). They propose that this is due to the adjuvants and not the glyphosate.

This position is pure supposition as there have not been the necessary side by side comparisons of glyphosate alone and full commercial glyphosate formulations at the same concentrations to determine the source of the genotoxicity and oncogentic potential by this route.

Thus the EFSA is not being true to the science by declaring glyphosate as not genotoxic and not a carcinogen. The truth is that the correct experiments haven't been done to know one way or the other. Until additional data comes to light, the WHO IARC categorisation of glyphosate as a probable carcinogen remains intact implying that great caution should be used in the use of this weedkiller and avoidance if at all possible.”

Breast Cancer UK will continue to support calls for a ban on the chemical especially where its use means that members of the public are routinely exposed. 

Link through to full press release here


1. Glyphosate: EFSA updates toxicological profile, published 12 Nvember 2015: http://www.efsa.europa.eu/en/press/news/151112

2. Guyton, K. Z. et al., (2015). Carcinogenicity of tetrachlorvinphos, parathion, malathion, diazinon, and glyphosate. Lancet Oncology, published online March 20, 2015. doi: 10.1016/S1470-2045(15)70134-8. http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lanonc/article/PIIS1470-2045(15)70134-8/abstract - See more at: http://www.breastcanceruk.org.uk/news-and-media/calls-for-partial-ban-on-glyphosate/#sthash.Ab929dsH.dpuf

3. Hokanson et al., (2007). Human and Experimental Toxicology 26(9):747-745.   Thongprakaisang et al., (2013). Food and Chemical Toxicology 59:129-136 - See more at: http://www.breastcanceruk.org.uk/news-and-media/calls-for-partial-ban-on-glyphosate/#sthash.Ab929dsH.dpuf

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