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By Lynn L. Bergeson, James V. Aidala, and Lisa R. Burchi

On March 20, 2015, the United Nations World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) announced it had completed evaluations assessing the carcinogenicity of five organophosphate pesticides. Specifically, IARC classified the herbicide glyphosate and the insecticides malathion and diazinon as probably carcinogenic to humans (Group 2A), and classified the insecticides tetrachlorvinphos and parathion as possibly carcinogenic to humans (Group 2B). IARC also found there is “limited evidence” that glyphosate can cause non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and lung cancer in humans.

A summary of the final evaluations, together with a brief rationale, is published online in The Lancet Oncology; the detailed assessments will be published as Volume 112 of the IARC Monographs. IARC’s press release announcing its evaluation is available at http://www.iarc.fr/en/media-centre/iarcnews/pdf/MonographVolume112.pdf.

Monsanto, on behalf of glyphosate task forces in the U.S. and the European Union (EU), immediately voiced its vigorous disagreement with IARC’s conclusions, noting various scientific issues with IARC’s evaluation that resulted in a conclusion that has not been reached following review by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and in the EU. Monsanto’s statement is available at http://news.monsanto.com/news/monsanto-disagrees-iarc-classification-glyphosate.

The IARC announcement with regard to glyphosate will further energize both sides of the debate about genetically modified organism (GMO) crops, since there are several crops that have been genetically engineered to be resistant to glyphosate. If some occupational risks are identified as needing possible further mitigation, the distinction between food safety issues and occupational risks may be lost in the rhetoric. Opponents of GMO crops and those who support GMO food product labels can be expected to cite the IARC designation regardless of any further clarification or nuance that the scientific debate over the data might provide. Defenders of the technology will insist that not only is the IARC designation wrong and misleading, but it is clearly at odds with numerous other conclusions reached by multiple competent governmental authorities concerning the safety of using glyphosate and especially consuming GMO crops.

Regardless of Monsanto’s rapid and detailed response, “dueling science” views are not helpful towards enhancing public confidence in the safety of the food supply, which is ultimately where this headline will be most influential. That will only add pressure on the review process and conclusions contained in the expected EPA registration review of glyphosate data scheduled for completion in 2015.
 


 

By Lisa M. Campbell, James V. Aidala, and Lisa R. Burchi


On March 2, 2015, European Union (EU) Ministers approved a Directive previously approved by the European Parliament with regard to genetically modified organisms (GMO). EU Directive 2010/0208, entitled Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council amending Directive 2001/18/EC as regards the possibility for the Member States to restrict or prohibit the cultivation of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in their territory, will allow individual Member States to determine whether they will allow, ban, or otherwise restrict the cultivation of GMOs, even in cases where the EU has authorized use of a GMO following the European Food Safety Authority’s (EFSA) assessment of the risks to health and the environment.

Specifically, the Directive provides: “a Member State may adopt measures restricting or prohibiting the cultivation in all or part of its territory of a GMO, or of a group of GMOs defined by crop or trait, once authorised in accordance with Part C of this Directive or with Regulation (EC) No 1829/2003, provided that such measures are in conformity with Union law, reasoned, proportional and non-discriminatory and, in addition, are based on compelling grounds.” The grounds stated include those related to:

* Environmental policy objectives;
* Town and country planning;
* Land use;
* Socio-economic impacts;
* Avoidance of GMO presence in other products without prejudice to Article 26a;
* Agricultural policy objectives; and
* Public policy.

A Member State also can seek to have all or part of its territory excluded from the geographical scope during the authorization procedure for a GMO.

The passage of this Directive is the culmination of years of negotiations between EU Member States that have disagreed over the cultivation of GMOs in their territories. The new rules, which will allow EU countries to opt-out from otherwise approved EU GMOs, are sure to be controversial as Member States, industry, farmers, and the public work out details related to the potentially non-scientific grounds that a particular Member State relies upon in restricting or banning use of a GMO, and as Member States develop measures that allowed GMOs must take to avoid “possible cross-border contamination.”

The legislation will enter into force following its publication in the Official Journal of the EU, which is expected in Spring 2015.

As various members of the EU continue to oppose production of GMO crops, these policies will remain trade irritants to the U.S. and other countries where GMO crops have been widely adopted. This comes as trade negotiations are ongoing and the EU allowance of trade barriers based on the “precautionary principle” remains a major point of disagreement between the EU and the U.S. (with its reliance on “science-based risk assessment policies”). This latest development, which further allows EU Member States to reject GMO crops under various criteria, will not make resolving any current or future trade disagreements any easier.