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Government Affairs: EPA reaffirms safety of glyphosate, environmental groups disagree, controversy continues

May 1, 2019 -  By

On April 30, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued an interim decision on the herbicide glyphosate that states, in part, “EPA continues to find that there are no risks to public health when glyphosate is used in accordance with its current label and that glyphosate is not a carcinogen.”

EPA: No risks

“EPA has found no risks to public health from the current registered uses of glyphosate,” said EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler. “Today’s proposed action includes new management measures that will help farmers use glyphosate in the most effective and efficient way possible, including pollinator protections.”

The interim decision is part of the regular 15-year review process by EPA of all registered pesticides. The product was first registered by EPA for use as an herbicide in 1974. It is the most widely used herbicide in the world.

Environmental groups react

Environmental groups reacted swiftly to the interim decision. The Environmental Working Group (EWG), which describes itself as a non-profit, non-partisan organization dedicated to protecting human health and the environment, said in a statement:

“A report published in January in the Environmental Sciences Europe documented how the EPA ignored a large number of independent, peer-reviewed studies that link glyphosate to cancer in humans. Instead, the report found, the EPA used research paid for by Monsanto to support the agency’s position that glyphosate is not carcinogenic.”

Glyphosate lawsuits

In addition to opposition to the use of the product from environmental organizations, last year, two lawsuits found Monsanto/Bayer liable for cancer allegedly caused by exposure to the herbicide, with awards of $80 million and $78 million respectively. (Last year, Bayer purchased Monsanto, the manufacturer of Roundup, the most popular brand of glyphosate-containing herbicide.) Bayer says it will appeal the decisions. Hundreds of similar lawsuits are pending.

Some vendors back away from glyphosate

Given these recent court awards, some vendors have decided to no longer carry glyphosate-containing products. In March 2019, Harrell’s (a distributor of fertilizers, pesticides and other agronomic products) announced that it would no longer carry glyphosate-containing products due to the legal liability and a potential increase in their insurance rates.

Photo: iStock.com/Skyhobo

Photo: iStock.com/Skyhobo

Glyphosate and neonicotinoids

The situation that is developing with glyphosate seems much like that the industry experienced with neonicotinoids several years ago. Even though the scientific evidence at the time suggested no connection between neonicotinoids and honey bee colony collapse, public sentiment outran the science and large retail chains began banning neonicotinoid-treated plants and neonicotinoid pesticides in their stores. A similar trend seems be developing with glyphosate.

Landscape contractors may soon begin hearing from their clients to not use products containing glyphosate on their properties, if they haven’t already.

EPA process from here

The interim decision issued by EPA on April 30, will be soon published in the Federal Register and after that publication, the public will have sixty days to submit comment on the decision. For background on EPA’s interim decision on glyphosate and how to submit comments to EPA, click here.

About the Author:

Gregg Robertson, Landscape Management's government relations blogger, is a government relations consultant for the Pennsylvania Landscape & Nursery Association (PLNA) and president of Conewago Ventures. From 2002 until May 2013 he served as president of PLNA. Reach him at gregg.robertson@conewagoventures.com.

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