Press Release

Groups Urge WHO to Set Safety Standards for Herbicide Glyphosate it Classified as Carcinogenic

They also call for investigation into apparent conflicts of interest on a WHO panel reviewing widely used herbicide

WASHINGTON (June 16, 2015) – A coalition of groups are urging the World Health Organization to swiftly set new safety standards for the world’s most widely used herbicide—glyphosate, often sold as “Roundup” – after a WHO cancer-evaluating arm recently classified it as a probable human carcinogen.

In a letter to the WHO, the coalition also raised concerns about conflicts of interest on an expert advisory panel that may review the cancer classification that could cloud its review. Researching public documents, the groups found three of eight panel members with financial and professional ties to the chemical industry, including Monsanto, the largest producer of glyphosate.

As a consequence, the WHO should conduct its own investigation and remove any panelists with conflicts of interest, said the letter signed by the Natural Resources Defense Council, Friends of the Earth US, Friends of the Earth Europe, the Center for Biological Diversity, the Center for Food Safety, Pesticide Action Network of North America, Pesticide Action Network UK, Food & Water Watch and Toxic Free North Carolina.

“The WHO is highly respected for protecting public health around the world, and it should move forward immediately to safeguard people from being harmed by glyphosate,” said NRDC Health Program Director Erik Olson. “At the same time, the WHO should make absolutely sure that its expert review panel is free of conflicts of interest so it can make science-based evaluations of herbicide and pesticide residues on food and advise what levels are safe for people to be exposed to.”

Earlier this year, the International Agency for Research on Cancer, a research arm of the WHO, classified the herbicides and pesticides glyphosate, malathion and diazinon as “probably carcinogenic to humans.” The next step is for that finding to be evaluated by another WHO group, the Joint FAO-WHO Meeting on Pesticide Residues.

NRDC and the other groups say that’s the group with members who have conflicts of interest. “We strongly urge WHO to ensure that the panel is free from conflicts and other biases that may unduly influence the work of the panel,” they write. In addition to Olson’s comments above, the other signers offered the following comments.

Lisa Archer, Food and Technology Program Director at Friends of the Earth US: “The WHO and EU must insure IARC’s science-based classification of glyphosate and other pesticides as probable carcinogens is upheld or risk losing credibility and public trust. Monsanto and other chemical industry interests must not be allowed to infiltrate or influence our most trusted institutions and undermine science and public health in the interest of maintaining profits.”

Magda Stoczkiewicz, Director at Friends of the Earth Europe: "Industrial agricultural in Europe is propped up by the overuse of glyphosate weedkillers. As the questions marks over its environmental and human impacts grow, safety needs to be put before profit. It is time public authorities took these warnings seriously and removed this chemical from farmers’ fields."

Lori Ann Burd, Environmental Health Director at the Center for Biological Diversity: “Now that the World Health Organization has declared glyphosate to be a probable carcinogen, the JMPR needs to establish protective standards to ensure the safety of people and the environment. Glyphosate, often sold as Roundup, is the most widely used herbicide in the World. The JMPR’s analysis may have significant impacts to those with a financial interest in selling glyphosate-based products, thus we are very concerned that several members of the task force who may have conflicts of interest. We urge the JMPR to ensure that its analysis is free from biases that may improperly influence its conclusions, and ultimately, the health of millions of people worldwide.”

Emily Marquez, Staff Scientist at Pesticide Action Network of North America: “The IARC's recent landmark decision on glyphosate, malathion, and diazinon poses a serious threat to Monsanto and other companies' pesticide sales, so it is unsurprising that the decision has been called into question by industry. The JMPR's recommendations for 'acceptable' levels of such pesticide residues on food must be made by a task force that is free of conflicts of interest. Several current members of the JMPR expert task force are not qualified to make recommendations due to conflicts of interest, namely close ties with glyphosate users and producers, including Monsanto."  

Wenonah Hauter, Executive Director of Food & Water Watch: “Time and time again we have seen corporate interests influence major decisions affecting the health of consumers and the environment. We will not stand by and watch WHO-IARC’s conclusion on glyphosate become watered down due to the presence of task force members tied to major biotech firms. Farmers, farmworkers and communities who live and work near farms sprayed with glyphosate are depending on a rigorous, independent review of this chemical and the WHO must provide it.”

Preston Peck, Policy Advocate, Toxic Free North Carolina: “Because of North Carolina’s $78 billion agriculture industry, glyphosate residue can be found practically all across the state affecting many, if not all, North Carolinians.  Currently, there is a conflict of interest between members of the JMPR and the WHO’s mission to provide ‘equitable and sustainable health for all’.  As long as the chemical industry, who has a vested interest in profiting from their products, continues to have a disproportionate role in the research concerning the human health effects of their products, then society can never know if the research is truly objective.  The WHO must conduct a thorough investigation of JMPR experts, remove candidates on the committee with potential conflicts of interest, and accept IARC’s research as credible, verifiable, and objective.”

The beginning text of the letter follows:

16 June 2015

World Health Organization
20 Avenue Appia 
1211 Geneva 27, Switzerland
Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
Viale delle Terme di Caracalla,
00153 Rome, Italy

Dr. Margaret Chan
Director-General, World Health Organization
And 
The Secretariat of the Joint FAO/WHO Meeting on Pesticide Residues:

  • Ms. Juliette Deweirdt, WHO JMPR Secretariat
  • Dr. Philippe Verger, WHO JMPR Secretariat
  • Ms. Yong Zhen Yang, FAO JMPR Secretariat

cc:

  • Dr. Ian Smith, Executive Director of the Director-General's Office
  • Gregory Hartl, WHO Media Officer

Dear Dr. Chan and the Joint JMPR Secretariats,

We are writing to support the scientific review and classification of the pesticides glyphosate, malathion, and diazinon as ‘probably carcinogenic to humans’ (Group 2A) by the International Agency for Research on Cancer earlier this year, and to raise concerns about the steps that are planned to be taken by the JMPR in response to the IARC classifications. IARC is a research arm of the World Health Organization (WHO). The role of the Joint FAO-WHO Meeting on Pesticide Residues (JMPR) is to conduct scientific evaluations of pesticide residues in food and provide advice on the acceptable levels of such residues. In fulfilling its role, JMPR should accept IARC’s cancer classification as issued and proceed with the task of identifying acceptable levels based on that classification and not establish a process to second-guess the recent work of IARC.

In addition, we have examined the make-up of the expert task force through publicly available documents and have identified several members with actual or apparent conflicts of interest, including ties to glyphosate users and producers including Monsanto. Therefore we are very concerned about the ability of the expert task force as currently constituted to provide an impartial review of the risks, and make unbiased recommendations. We strongly urge WHO to ensure that the panel is free from conflicts and other biases that may unduly influence the work of the panel.

Information on the panel is here: http://www.who.int/foodsafety/areas_work/chemical-risks/jmpr/en/

List of experts is attached and: http://www.who.int/foodsafety/areas_work/chemical-risks/list_of_experts1.pdf

The full letter is here: http://docs.nrdc.org/health/files/hea_15061501a.pdf

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