By Lisa M. Campbell, Timothy D. Backstrom, and Lisa R. Burchi
On June 22, 2020, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California granted summary judgment for the Plaintiffs in National Association of Wheat Growers et. al. v. Becerra, and entered a permanent injunction against enforcement of a Proposition 65 (Prop 65) warning label for pesticide products containing glyphosate. The court found that requiring the registrants of glyphosate products to include such a warning could not be justified as a valid restriction on commercial speech and therefore is contrary to the First Amendment of the Constitution. The same District Court had previously entered a preliminary injunction against the Prop 65 warning in 2018, and the required warning has consequently never been in effect. (See our February 28, 2018, blog entitled “Eastern District of California Rules on Motion to Enjoin Prop 65 Listing and Warning on Glyphosate Products.”) The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) also has stated that it would not allow a Prop 65 warning to be added to the labeling for any registered glyphosate product because such a warning is misleading and would cause the product to be “misbranded” under Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) Section 2(q)(1)(A). (See our August 15, 2019, blog entitled “EPA Issues Guidance Regarding Prop 65 Labeling Requirements for Glyphosate Products and OEHHA Responds.”)
A Prop 65 warning is required when the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) determines that a product contains a substance that has been classified as a human carcinogen by certain authoritative bodies, including the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). Based on an IARC determination that glyphosate is “probably carcinogenic” in humans, OEHHA listed glyphosate in July 2017 as a chemical known to the State of California to cause cancer, thereby triggering Prop 65 warning requirements. Despite the IARC determination, every other authoritative body that has considered the matter (including EPA, the European Commission, and the World Health Organization) has reached a contrary determination that glyphosate is not likely to be carcinogenic in humans. California’s imposition of a Prop 65 warning for glyphosate was challenged in 2018 by the registrant Bayer and a coalition of farming groups and industry stakeholders, who obtained a preliminary injunction against enforcement of the warning.
Before entering the new permanent injunction, the District Court considered whether California’s regulation of commercial speech should be scrutinized under the lower standard set by the Supreme Court in Zauderer v. Office of Disciplinary Counsel or the intermediate standard set by Central Hudson Gas & Electric v. Public Service Commission. The Zauderer standard only applies to mandatory disclosure of “purely factual and uncontroversial information,” and the Court found that the Prop 65 warning for glyphosate is “misleading” and therefore neither factual nor uncontroversial. Under the Central Hudson level of scrutiny, a governmental agency may only restrict commercial speech when the restriction directly advances an important governmental interest and where the restriction is not more extensive than necessary to serve that interest. The Court found that the Prop 65 warning for glyphosate is misleading, and therefore does not directly advance the interest of the state in informing consumers regarding potential cancer hazards, and that the asserted state interest could be effectively advanced by other measures that do not burden freedom of speech in the same manner.
California argued that no Prop 65 warning would actually be required for glyphosate in practice because OEHHA has set a quantitative “safe harbor” level for glyphosate exposure, but the court found that this would not prevent parties other than California from bringing separate enforcement actions to enforce the listing. Since a Prop 65 warning only needs to be “clear and reasonable,” California also proposed several alternative forms for a warning that would meet state requirements, but the court found these alternate warnings to all be misleading as well. Based on all of these factors, the court decided to enjoin permanently the enforcement of Prop 65 warning requirements for glyphosate as an unconstitutional burden on commercial speech.
Under FIFRA Section 24(b), no state may impose any labeling for a registered pesticide that differs from the labeling approved by EPA. Although EPA has sometimes been willing to accommodate state labeling requirements or preferences within the labeling approved under FIFRA, there are necessary limits to this practice. When label language sought by a state becomes misleading, approving it would also be expressly contrary to FIFRA. How much precedential effect this decision may have with respect to other state requirements for labeling in the future is an issue that registrants should monitor closely.
By Timothy D. Backstrom
On February 3, 2020, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a Federal Register notice announcing the availability of an interim registration review decision for glyphosate. EPA previously issued a proposed interim registration review decision (PID) for glyphosate for comment in April 2019. At the time EPA issued the glyphosate PID for comment, EPA also issued a draft human health risk assessment and a preliminary ecological risk assessment for glyphosate. After reviewing the comments received concerning these assessments, EPA has not made any revisions to either assessment. EPA has determined that there are no dietary, residential, bystander, or occupational human health risks of concern associated with glyphosate use. EPA has also determined that there are some potential risks to plants, birds, mammals, and invertebrates from glyphosate use, but that these can be appropriately mitigated by label changes requiring enforceable spray drift management measures and adding a warning concerning the potential hazards to non-target organisms. EPA also has proposed some new measures to manage the development and spread of herbicide-resistant weeds. EPA has generally retained the proposed labeling changes identified in the PID, except for some modest adjustments to the proposed language concerning droplet size restrictions and swath displacement restrictions for aerial applications, and removal of spray drift advisory language for airblast application.
Despite considerable publicity recently concerning purported carcinogenic risks for glyphosate, including allegations that human exposure to glyphosate can be linked to non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, EPA has determined that glyphosate is not likely to be a human carcinogen and has steadfastly adhered to this basic conclusion. EPA made this determination for glyphosate after convening a meeting of the FIFRA Scientific Advisory Panel (SAP) to evaluate the carcinogenic potential of glyphosate in 2016.
The general purposes of the PID process are to allow EPA to move forward with aspects of the registration review process that are essentially complete, and to adopt interim risk mitigation measures, even though some of the actions required prior to a final registration review decision are not yet complete. As in the case of most recent PIDs, EPA states that it has not yet made a complete determination concerning potential effects or any required consultation for glyphosate under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), nor has it made a determination for glyphosate under the Endocrine Disruptor Screening Program (EDSP). In addition, EPA is considering a pending petition to prohibit preharvest use of glyphosate on oats, and to reduce the tolerance for glyphosate in oats, that was filed in 2018 by the Environmental Working Group and others. This petition is predicated on the potential carcinogenicity of glyphosate. Finally, EPA is still evaluating the question of whether additional data will be needed to evaluate properly the potential effects of glyphosate use on pollinators.
More information on glyphosate and EPA’s interim registration review decision is available here.
EPA's interim registration review decision for glyphosate is predicated on EPA's prior determination that the best available scientific data do not substantiate the claims that glyphosate may be a human carcinogen. As discussed above, the potential carcinogenicity of glyphosate was thoroughly evaluated by the FIFRA SAP in 2016. EPA's determination after that review that glyphosate is not a carcinogen has also been supported by other pesticide regulatory authorities. Nonetheless, EPA's view conflicts with a cancer classification decision for glyphosate by the World Health Organization (WHO), and with some recent tort case decisions that were based on the premise that there is a credible linkage between glyphosate exposure and human cancer. EPA recently announced that it would not permit or approve any cancer warning statements for inclusion in glyphosate labeling (including any statements that may be required pursuant to California's Prop 65) because EPA believes that such statements are false or misleading and would therefore cause the pesticides to be "misbranded."
It appears probable there will be continued litigation based on the purported carcinogenicity of glyphosate, along with various proposals to ban or restrict glyphosate use. The pending petition to restrict use of glyphosate on oats that was filed by EWG, et al., is expressly predicated on the potential carcinogenicity of glyphosate, so it appears probable that this petition will ultimately be denied by EPA. Nonetheless, unless WHO decides to reverse or modify its classification determination, or the courts determine that the recent tort awards for glyphosate users cannot be scientifically substantiated, the battles over the claimed carcinogenicity of glyphosate may persist for years.
More information on glyphosate issues is available on our blog under keyword glyphosate.
By Lisa M. Campbell and Timothy D. Backstrom
On September 9, 2019, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Office of Pesticide Programs (OPP) published a notice in the Federal Register announcing the availability of, and an opportunity for comment on, a document describing an “interim process” that OPP’s Environmental Fate and Ecological Effects Division is currently using to evaluate potential synergistic effects of mixtures of pesticide active ingredients on non-target organisms. As part of a lawsuit challenging the 2012 decision by EPA to register Enlist Duo Herbicide (a combination of 2,4-D and glyphosate), OPP scientists learned that patent applications for some registered pesticide products included claims that particular combinations of active ingredients provide “synergistic” control of target species. Although EPA was not at that time considering potential synergies in assessing the risk for ecological effects on non-target organisms, based on the patent application claims regarding synergy for Enlist Duo, EPA decided to request that the reviewing court vacate its registration decision and remand the application for Enlist Duo for further study of these effects and any measures that might be needed to mitigate the risk to non-target organisms. This decision sparked much controversy, and many in industry were concerned that patent application claims were not being correctly interpreted by EPA for the category of pesticide products at issue.
The new document released by EPA for review and comments is entitled: “Process for Receiving and Evaluating Data Supporting Assertions of Greater Than Additive (GTA) Effects in Mixtures of Pesticide Active Ingredients and Associated Guidance for Registrants.” EPA states that it “has generally been applying this interim process since 2016.” The process described in the document has five steps: (1) registration applicants must search for any granted patents that include synergy (GTA) claims for combinations of pesticides; (2) applicants must review the patent claims and supporting data for relevance to ecological risk assessment; (3) applicants must report to EPA all effects testing data from the relevant patents; (4) applicants must do a statistical analysis (using a method prescribed by EPA) to determine whether any observations of GTA effects are statistically significant; and (5) EPA will review all submitted information to decide whether it should be utilized in ecological risk assessment.
In the Federal Register notice, OPP lists five specific areas pertaining to the interim risk assessment process described in the document on which it is requesting comment:
- Are there technical aspects of the interim process that warrant change? If so, what changes are recommended?
- What aspects of the process could be applied to the evaluation of open literature sources of GTA effects pesticide interactions?
- Should EPA consider standardizing a more detailed search and reporting approach, and how should EPA do that?
- Should EPA continue the evaluation process as described in this document? If so, what performance metrics (e.g., number of evaluations) should EPA consider before deciding the utility of this approach?
- What applicant burden is associated with the activities described in this memorandum, including compiling, analyzing, and submitting the information? Specifically, does an estimate of 80-240 hours of burden per applicant cover the respondent burden associated with the interim process?
When the National Research Council (NRC) evaluated the importance of toxicological interactions between pesticide active ingredients in 2013, the NRC concluded that such interactions are rare, but that EPA should nonetheless consider such interactions when the best available scientific evidence supports such an evaluation. In the current Federal Register notice, EPA makes it clear that it is uncertain concerning the utility for risk assessment of the information used by manufacturers to support synergistic effects claims in pesticide patents. According to EPA, 24 applicants for new registrations have submitted patent data to date, but only three of these submissions contained information that indicated a need for further testing and no submission ultimately led to any adjustment of the ecological risk assessment. At this juncture, EPA will continue collecting patent data that may be pertinent to GTA effects, but when it has sufficient experience upon to base a general policy it may either continue or improve this process or discontinue it after explaining why.
When EPA requested that the reviewing court vacate and remand the registration EPA had granted for Enlist Duo, the parties seeking judicial review located data in the patent applications that EPA had not previously seen or reviewed and that EPA believed could possibly be pertinent to potential adverse effects on non-target plants. EPA concluded that it should revisit the decision based on the additional data. Although EPA decided to request vacatur and remand, the applicant Dow AgroSciences had arguably followed all of the procedures then in place, because FIFRA Section 3(c)(5) allows EPA to waive data requirements pertaining to efficacy, and EPA typically registers pesticide product that are not intended to protect public health without any independent evaluation of efficacy data. Nevertheless, in general EPA may choose to evaluate pesticidal efficacy data; such circumstances in the past often involved cases where EPA was required to consider whether pesticide benefits are sufficient to outweigh identified risks. In the Enlist case, EPA determined that it should do so where potential synergy in pesticidal efficacy is pertinent to evaluating ecological effects on non-target species.
What EPA must decide now is how often efficacy data that has been deemed adequate by the Patent and Trademark Office to support a patent for a new pesticide mixture will have any material significance in the context of ecological risk assessment. Before EPA makes a determination whether or not patent data has sufficient pertinence to continue requiring routine collection and evaluation of such data, EPA has decided it is prudent to afford all stakeholders an opportunity to comment on whether EPA has been asking the right questions.
All comments on the draft document must be submitted no later than October 24, 2019.
By Lisa M. Campbell, Timothy D. Backstrom, Lisa R. Burchi, and James V. Aidala
On August 7, 2019, EPA took long awaited action concerning the inclusion of Prop 65 warning statements for glyphosate on EPA registered pesticide labels, which will likely impact the broader ongoing debate over EPA approval of Prop 65 warnings on pesticide labels. EPA’s August 7, 2019, letter to glyphosate registrants states that EPA “will no longer approve labeling that includes the Proposition 65 warning statement for glyphosate-containing products.” EPA stated further that “[t]he warning statement must also be removed from all product labels where the only basis for the warning is glyphosate and from any materials considered labeling under FIFRA for those products.” Moreover, EPA unequivocally states that “pesticide products bearing the Proposition 65 warning statement due to the presence of glyphosate are misbranded” under FIFRA Section 2(q)(1)(A). Registrants with glyphosate products currently bearing Prop 65 warning language, where the exclusive basis for such warning is based on the presence of glyphosate, must submit draft amended labeling that removes this language by November 5, 2019.
By way of background, California’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) listed glyphosate as a chemical known to the state of California to cause cancer on July 7, 2017. OEHHA’s listing of glyphosate as a substance under Prop 65 is based on the International Agency on the Research for Cancer (IARC) classifying it as “probably carcinogenic to humans.” EPA scientists subsequently completed an independent review of the available scientific data on the potential carcinogenicity of glyphosate and do not agree with the IARC classification. Additional information regarding glyphosate is available at B&C’s blog.
Also of note is a February 26, 2018, preliminary injunction issued by the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District Court of California, in response to a motion filed by a coalition including Monsanto, CropLife America, and several growers associations alleging that the IARC classification decision for glyphosate is contrary to the international scientific consensus, that the required Prop 65 warning would be misleading to the ordinary consumer, that compelling the manufacturers of glyphosate to provide such a warning would violate the First Amendment because the warning is not factual and uncontroversial, and that the applicable criteria for injunctive relief were met. The February 26, injunction precluded OEHHA from enforcing its Prop 65 warning requirements against glyphosate registrants that otherwise would have taken effect on July 7, 2018. The Court did not rule that glyphosate should be removed from the Prop 65 list as a chemical known to the State of California to cause cancer, but did state that products containing glyphosate would not be required to comply with the warning requirements. In issuing the preliminary injunction, the Court stated that the required warnings are “false and misleading” and that plaintiffs “have shown that they are likely to succeed on the merits of their First Amendment claim, are likely to suffer irreparable harm absent an injunction, and that the balance of equities and public interest favor an injunction, the court will grant plaintiffs’ request to enjoin [Prop 65]’s warning requirement for glyphosate.” More information on that case is available at B&C’s blog. That injunction has not been appealed and remains in place.
Although the glyphosate warning that EPA has refused to allow is based on OEHHA’s recent listing under Prop 65, Prop 65 warnings on pesticide labels generally have been a significant issue since 2016 when OEHHA issued revised regulations regarding the content and transmission of Prop 65 warnings. As a result of these revisions, many registrants sought to add Prop 65 warning requirements to pesticide labels to meet Prop 65 requirements, but many registrants have not been able to obtain EPA approval for such warnings, resulting in much controversy and discussion. More information regarding the changes to Prop 65 warning requirements also are available at B&C’s blog.
In its press release announcing its guidance to glyphosate registrants, EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler states: “It is irresponsible to require labels on products that are inaccurate when EPA knows the product does not pose a cancer risk. We will not allow California’s flawed program to dictate federal policy.” EPA states that its “independent evaluation of available scientific data included a more extensive and relevant dataset than IARC considered during its evaluation of glyphosate, from which the agency concluded that glyphosate is ‘not likely to be carcinogenic to humans.’” Wheeler is further quoted as stating: “It is critical that federal regulatory agencies like EPA relay to consumers accurate, scientific based information about risks that pesticides may pose to them. EPA’s notification to glyphosate registrants is an important step to ensuring the information shared with the public on a federal pesticide label is correct and not misleading.”
OEHHA immediately released its own press release on August 13, 2019, in which it “objects to US EPA’s characterization of any warning concerning glyphosate’s carcinogenicity as a false claim.’” After reiterating OEHHA’s listing glyphosate based on the IARC determination, OEHHA states that EPA’s position “conflicts with the determination made by IARC” and that “it is disrespectful of the scientific process for US EPA to categorically dismiss any warnings based on IARC’s determinations as false.”
The Court’s February 26, 2018, preliminary injunction was considered a significant development both for glyphosate specifically and perhaps for Prop 65 warning requirements generally, especially considering the recent influx to EPA of label amendments seeking EPA approval of revised Prop 65 warning language to address OEHHA’s revised regulatory changes. EPA’s guidance is equally significant, as EPA has now rejected the inclusion of a Prop 65 warning that EPA believes is misleading on a federal pesticide product label.
FIFRA Section 24(b) expressly prohibits any State from requiring any label language for a registered pesticide product beyond the labeling approved by EPA, and EPA has now declined to approve pesticide labeling that includes the Prop 65 warning for glyphosate. In some instances, EPA has been willing as a courtesy to approve labeling changes requested by a State, but the glyphosate determination demonstrates that EPA will not accept any label revisions that conflict materially with its own determinations. Although glyphosate is a fairly complex and controversial case, it will be important for registrants to monitor the evolution of EPA’s standard for when it will or will not approve a Prop 65 warning on a federal label, since this issue has been the subject of considerable controversy over the past several years.
By Lisa M. Campbell and Barbara Christianson
On June 26, 2019, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced it was extending the comment deadline on its Proposed Interim Registration Review Decision (PID) for glyphosate acid and its various salt forms. 84 Fed. Reg. 30112. EPA states that it is extending the comment deadline “after receiving public comments requesting additional time to review the Glyphosate Proposed Interim Registration Review Decision and supporting materials.”
The deadline to submit comments was extended from July 5, 2019, to September 3, 2019. The public can submit comments on EPA’s proposed decision at www.regulations.gov in Docket Number EPA-HQ-OPP-2009-0361.
More information on glyphosate issues is available on our blog.
By Lisa M. Campbell, Lisa R. Burchi, and James V. Aidala
On May 6, 2019, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced it was releasing its Proposed Interim Registration Review Decision (PID) for glyphosate acid and its various salt forms. 84 Fed. Reg. 19782. In the PID, EPA states that it “did not identify any human health risks from exposure to any use of glyphosate” but did identify “potential risk to mammals and birds” within the application area or areas near the application area and “potential risk to terrestrial and aquatic plants from off-site spray drift, consistent with glyphosate’s use as a herbicide.” Even with these potential risks, the PID states that “EPA concludes that the benefits outweigh the potential ecological risks when glyphosate is used according to label directions” and proposes certain risk mitigation strategies, including:
- “To reduce off-site spray drift to non-target organisms, the EPA is proposing certain spray drift management measures” with specific spray drift mitigation language to be included on all glyphosate product labels for products applied by liquid spray application;
- “To preserve glyphosate as a viable tool for growers and combat weed resistance, the EPA is … proposing that herbicide resistance management language be added to all glyphosate labels” and to require measures “for the pesticide registrants to provide growers and users with detailed information and recommendations to slow the development and spread of herbicide resistant weeds”;
- Inclusion on labels of a non-target organism advisory statement to alert users of potential impact to non-target organisms; and
- “EPA is also proposing certain labeling clean-up/consistency efforts to bring all glyphosate labels up to modern standards.”
EPA states that these measures were discussed with glyphosate registrants, who do not oppose the proposed risk mitigation measures outlined in the PID.
The public can submit comments on EPA’s proposed decision at www.regulations.gov in Docket Number EPA-HQ-OPP-2009-0361. Public comments are due by July 5, 2019. In addition to the PID, EPA is also posting to the glyphosate docket EPA’s response to comments on glyphosate’s usage and benefits (dated April 18, 2019), EPA’s response to comments on the human health risk assessment (dated April 23, 2018), and EPA’s response to comments on the preliminary ecological risk assessment (dated November 21, 2018).
This PID was issued shortly after the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry’s announcement on April 8, 2019, of the opening of a docket on the draft toxicological profile for glyphosate. 84 Fed. Reg. 13922. ATSDR seeks comments and additional information or reports on studies about the health effects of glyphosate for review and potential inclusion in the profile. Comments are due by July 8, 2019.
EPA’s PID and related documents, along with ATSDR’s draft profile and the peer review which will follow, can be expected to become part of the larger debate about the potential risks of glyphosate. In 2017, EPA evaluated the carcinogenic risk of glyphosate, and released its draft human health and ecological risk assessments. See our December 19, 2017, blog item "EPA Releases Draft Human Health and Ecological Risk Assessments for Glyphosate for Public Comment" for more information.
EPA’s PID is interesting not only for the conclusions EPA reached following its review of data submitted by registrants in response to a data call-in (DCI) and following the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) Scientific Advisory Panel’s (SAP) meeting to consider and review scientific issues related to EPA’s evaluation of the carcinogenic potential of glyphosate, but for the issues that remain to be addressed. Notably, EPA states that it has not considered the petition filed on September 27, 2018, to reduce glyphosate’s tolerance because the petition was filed after the comment period for the human health and ecological risk assessments closed. Instead, EPA plans to post the petition in the glyphosate docket and address the petition concurrently with the development of the Interim Registration Review Decision.
In addition, EPA has not in the PID or related documents addressed issues regarding its Endangered Species Act (ESA) assessment or its Endocrine Disruptor Screening Program (EDSP) activities. EPA states it intends to complete an assessment of risk to ESA-listed species prior to completing its final registration review decision for glyphosate, and that it also will make an EDSP determination under Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FFDCA) Section 408(p) before completing its registration review. EPA also notes that it continues to evaluate risks to pollinators, and that if it determines “that additional pollinator exposure and effects data are necessary to help make a final registration review decision for glyphosate, then the EPA will issue a DCI to obtain these data.” Although there are significant areas that remain to be resolved, EPA issued the PID “so that it can (1) move forward with aspects of the registration review case that are complete and (2) implement interim risk mitigation.”
More information on glyphosate issues is available on our blog.
By Lisa M. Campbell and James V. Aidala
On April 8, 2019, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) announced the opening of a docket on the draft toxicological profile for glyphosate. 84 Fed. Reg. 13922. ATSDR seeks comments and additional information or reports on studies about the health effects of glyphosate for review and potential inclusion in the profile. Comments are due by July 8, 2019.
The draft profile includes a chapter on glyphosate’s potential for human exposure, which states the following in the overview:
- “Glyphosate has not been identified in any of the 1,832 hazardous waste sites that have been proposed for inclusion on the [U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)] National Priorities List (NPL) (ATSDR 2015). However, the number of sites evaluated for glyphosate is not known.”
- “Occupational and residential exposure is a result of glyphosate’s use in agricultural, nonagricultural, industrial, and residential settings. The highest potential for dermal, inhalation, and ocular exposure is expected for pesticide applicators, farm workers, and home gardeners who use herbicides containing glyphosate.”
- “The general population is exposed to glyphosate via ingestion of crops, plants, and foods with residues of this chemical. Residential exposure may occur via inhalation, dermal contact, and/or ocular contact during mixing or application of consumer products containing glyphosate or by coming into contact with crops, soils, or water to which glyphosate-containing products have been applied.”
- “Occupational exposure to glyphosate may occur via inhalation, dermal contact, and/or ocular contact during manufacture, transport, mixing, loading, application, and disposal processes. Accidental oral exposure may occur via unintentional ingestion. Dermal contact appears to be the major route of exposure to glyphosate for individuals involved in its application.”
- “Glyphosate mainly enters the environment as a direct result of its herbicidal use. Fate of this chemical in the environment includes degradation, transport, and partitioning processes, which are governed by its physicochemical properties and by abiotic or biotic degradation under certain environmental conditions. Glyphosate is a nonvolatile, highly polar, non-residual herbicide that has low potential for environmental persistence and is unlikely to bioaccumulate.”
ATSDR’s draft profile and the peer review which will follow can be expected to become part of the larger debate about the potential risks of glyphosate. Meanwhile, EPA continues its work on the registration review of the herbicide. In 2017, EPA evaluated the carcinogenic risk of glyphosate, and released its draft human health and ecological risk assessments. See our December 19, 2017, blog item EPA Releases Draft Human Health and Ecological Risk Assessments for Glyphosate for Public Comment for more information. After the public comment period for the draft human health and ecological risk assessments ended in April 2018, EPA officials have stated they hope to complete the registration review sometime this year.
By Lisa R. Burchi
On March 7, 2019, in the Court of Justice of the European Union (EU), the Eighth Chamber of the General Court issued two judgments in cases regarding access of confidential information related to glyphosate. One of these decisions (Tweedale v. EFSA, Case T-716/14) related to a 2014 request for two toxicity studies that were “key studies” in the determination of glyphosate’s acceptable daily intake (ADI). The second decision (Hautala et al. v. EFSA, Case T-329/17) related to a request from Members of the European Parliament for access to parts (i.e., “material, experimental conditions and methods” and “results and discussions”) of 12 unpublished carcinogenicity studies, described as the “‘most crucial’ studies for the peer review and [EFSA’s] conclusion that glyphosate is unlikely to pose carcinogenic hazard to humans.” Partial access to those studies (i.e., raw data and findings aggregated in tables and figures) had been granted in an earlier 2016 decision.
A prior November 21, 2018, case related to glyphosate (Stichting Greenpeace Nederland and Pesticide Action Network Europe v. European Commission, Case T-545/11 RENV) and the General Court/Fourth Chamber’s judgment to prevent applicants from receiving access to information on the degree of purity of the active substance glyphosate, as well as the identity and quantities of impurities is discussed here. In contrast to the Stichting decision, where access was denied, the court in the March 7, 2019, decisions annulled prior decisions dated October 16, 2017 and March 14, 2017, that refused access to the requested information.
Article 4(2) of Regulation No. 1049/2001 (regarding public access to European Parliament, Council and Commission documents) provides that access to documents should be refused where disclosure would undermine, in part, commercial interests of a natural or legal person, including intellectual property, unless “there is an overriding public interest in disclosure.”
Article 6(1) of Regulation No. 1367/2006 (regarding the application of the provisions of the Aarhus Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters to Community institutions and bodies) provides that, with regard to Regulation No. 1049/2001 Article 4(2), “an overriding public interest in disclosure shall be deemed to exist where the information requested relates to emissions into the environment.” Recital 15 of Regulation No. 1367/2006 also provides: “The grounds for refusal as regards access to environmental information should be interpreted in a restrictive way, taking into account the public interest served by disclosure and whether the information requested relates to emissions in the environment.”
Taken together, the court stated: “that means that an EU institution, hearing a request for access to a document, cannot justify its refusal to divulge it on the basis of the exception relating to the protection of the commercial interests of a particular natural or legal person for the purposes of Article 4(2), first indent, of Regulation No 1049/2001, where the information contained in that document constitutes information which ‘relates to emissions into the environment’ for the purposes of Article 6(1) of Regulation No 1367/2006.”
The General Court/Fourth Chamber thus addressed whether the information contained in the applicants’ requests constituted information which ‘relates to emissions into the environment’ for the purposes of Article 6(1) of Regulation 1367/2006.
In the March 7, 2019, decisions, the General Court/Fourth Chamber held that EFSA cannot argue that the requested studies do not concern actual emissions or the effects of actual emissions because “an active substance contained in plant protection products, such as glyphosate, in the course of normal use, is intended to be discharged into the environment by virtue of its function, and its foreseeable emissions cannot, therefore, be regarded as purely hypothetical.” The court further held: “It is apparent from that case-law that the concept of information which ‘relates to emissions into the environment’ for the purposes of Article 6(1) of Regulation No 1367/2006 is not limited to information which makes it possible to assess the emissions as such, but also covers information relating to the effects of those emissions.” The Court further stated that the “concept of information which ‘relates to emissions into the environment’ for the purposes of Article 6(1) of Regulation No 1367/2006 must be interpreted as covering not only information on emissions as such, namely information concerning the nature, composition, quantity, date and place of those emissions, but also data concerning the medium to long-term consequences of those emissions on the environment.”
The court also found that EFSA’s “argument that the conditions in which the requested studies were carried out are not linked to emissions is irrelevant. What matters is not the conditions in which the requested studies were carried out, but their purpose.” In these cases, the purpose to define a no observed adverse effect level (NOAEL) from which the ADI was calculated, or to determine the carcinogenic effects of exposing humans to glyphosate, “must be regarded as constituting information which ‘relates to emissions into the environment; for the purposes of Article 6(1) of Regulation No. 1367/2006.”
In sum, the court in Tweedale concluded:
- It follows from the foregoing that the exception relating to the protection of commercial interests, provided for in Article 4(2), first indent, of Regulation No 1049/2001, cannot be relied upon in order to object to the disclosure of the requested studies which are regarded as information which ‘relates to emissions into the environment’ for the purposes of Article 6(1) of Regulation No 1367/2006.
The court in Hautala further stated that “an overriding public interest in disclosing the studies is deemed to exist, and EFSA could not refuse to disclose them on the ground that that would have an adverse effect on the protection of the commercial interests of the owners of the requested studies for the purposes of Article 4(2), first indent, of Regulation No 1049/2001.”
These decisions support transparency but also may add confusion regarding any limitations placed on the scope of what is to be considered “information on emissions into the environment.” The prior 2018 Stichting decision refused access to information on the degree of purity of the active substance glyphosate, as well as the identity and quantities of impurities, finding that such information is excluded from the concept of “information relating to emissions into the environment:”
- Since the use, the conditions of use and the composition of a plant protection product authorised by a Member State on its territory may be very different from those of products evaluated at EU level during the approval of the active substance, it must be held that the information in the document at issue does not relate to emissions whose release into the environment is foreseeable and has, at the very most, a link to emissions into the environment.
These decisions may expand the scope of information that relates to emissions into the environment, including, for example, “data concerning the medium to long-term consequences of those emissions on the environment.” For information that is determined to constitute information that “relates to emissions into the environment,” the decisions appear to create a presumption for disclosure that cannot be countered based on the exception relating to the protection of the commercial interests of a particular natural or legal person.
Companies should continue to monitor these decisions closely, as guidance continues to evolve regarding the scope of disclosure.
More information on glyphosate issues is available on our blog.
By Lisa M. Campbell and Lisa R. Burchi
On November 21, 2018, in Court of Justice of the European Union (EU), the Fourth Chamber of the General Court (General Court/Fourth Chamber) issued a judgment in the appeal case T-545/11 RENV that denied all three pleas on appeal and prevented applicants Stichting Greenpeace Nederland and Pesticide Action Network Europe (Applicants) from receiving certain documents containing confidential information relating to the first authorization of the placing of glyphosate on the market as an active substance, specifically the complete list of all tests submitted by the operators seeking the inclusion of glyphosate in Annex I to Directive 91/414.
The judgment provides a detailed history of the case, beginning in 2010, when Applicants requested access to the documents in question. In this initial case, the Secretary General of the Commission agreed with the Federal Republic of Germany’s decision to refuse access to the documents (contested decision) on the basis that disclosure in Article 4(2) of Regulation No. 1049/2001 would undermine protection of the commercial interests of a natural or legal person. In upholding Germany’s decision, the Secretary General found that there was “no evidence of an overriding public interest in disclosure” within the meaning of Article 4(2) of Regulation No. 1049/2001, and also that the information “did not relate to emissions into the environment” within the meaning of Article 6(1) of Regulation No. 1367/2006 concerning public disclosure of information on the environmental effects of glyphosate. As such, “protection of the interests of the manufacturers of that substance had to prevail.”
The Applicants brought an action for annulment of the contested decision to the Registry of the General Court. After one of the documents at issue (a draft assessment report issued by Germany prior to the initial inclusion of glyphosate in Annex I to Directive 91/414) was produced to the court (but still not released to the Applicants), the General Court ruled to annul the contested decision. The Commission appealed this annulment, stating that the General Court erred in its interpretation of the term “information [which] relates to emissions into the environment.” The Court of Justice was persuaded by this argument, set aside the initial judgment, and referred the case back to the General Court. The case was then assigned to the Fourth Chamber. The dispute was limited to the part of the document at issue that “contains information on the degree of purity of the active substance, the ‘identity’ and quantities of all the impurities present in the technical material, the analytical profile of the batches, and the exact composition of the product developed.”
The Applicants put forward three pleas in law in support of their action. The pleas, and the basis for the General Court/Fourth Chamber’s rejections of those pleas, are as follows:
- Failure to Take Account of the Scope of Article 4(5) of Regulation No. 1049/2001: Article 4(5) of Regulation No. 1049/2001 provides that a Member State may request an institution not to disclose a document originating from that State without its prior agreement. Applicants submitted that Article 4(5) of Regulation No. 1049/2001 does not constitute a right of veto for a Member State and that the Commission may not rely on the Member State’s opinion regarding the application of an exception provided for by Article 4(2) of that Regulation. The General Court/Fourth Chamber stated that “the argument put forward cannot succeed, since Article 4(5) of Regulation No 1049/2001 is not the basis on which the Commission refused access to that document. Consequently, the first plea in law must be rejected.” Instead, Article 4(2) was the basis for Germany’s decision, and the Commission verified that Germany’s reasons for that decision were “prima facie, well founded.”
- Overriding Public Interest In Disclosing Information Relating to Emissions Into the Environment: Applicants maintained that the exception to the right of access designed to protect the commercial interests of a natural or legal person must be waived, because of an overriding public interest in disclosure of the information requested, which relates to emissions into the environment. Specifically, Applicants argued that information related to the identity and quantity of impurities present in glyphosate and related test information must be disclosed so that it could be determined “which toxic elements are emitted into the environment and are liable to remain there for some time.” With regard to the concept of “information relating to emissions into the environment,” the General Court/Fourth Chamber rejected arguments that the provision must be interpreted restrictively to mean only direct or indirect release of substances from installations. The General Court/Fourth Chamber also found, however, that the concept cannot be interpreted in a way that would “deprive of any practical effect the possibility” that a Member State could refuse to disclose environmental information or “jeopardise the balance which the EU legislature intended to maintain between the objective of transparency and the protection of [commercial] interests.” In rejecting the second plea, the General Court/Fourth Chamber states:
Since the use, the conditions of use and the composition of a plant protection product authorised by a Member State on its territory may be very different from those of products evaluated at EU level during the approval of the active substance, it must be held that the information in the document at issue does not relate to emissions whose release into the environment is foreseeable and has, at the very most, a link to emissions into the environment. Accordingly, such information is excluded from the concept of “information relating to emissions into the environment,” in accordance with paragraph 78 of the judgement on appeal.
- Alleged Infringement of Article 4(2) of Regulation No. 1049/2001 and Article 4 of the Aarhus Convention: Applicants argued that the contested decision is not in accordance with Article 4(2) of Regulation No. 1049/2001 and Article 4 of the Aarhus Convention, on the ground that the Commission did not evaluate the actual risk of damage to the commercial interests invoked. The General Court/Fourth Chamber stated that it must be held “that the Commission correctly weighed up the relevant interests, having set out precisely and specifically the way in which the commercial interests of producers of glyphosate or plant protection products containing it would be jeopardised by the disclosure of the document at issue.”
After rejecting all three pleas, the General Court/Fourth Chamber held that the action must be dismissed in its entirety, and ordered Applicants to pay the costs relating to the various proceedings.
This case has been monitored closely because of the potential implications for companies that have submitted data or other information claimed as confidential that could be disclosed based on “overriding public interest.” The American Chemistry Council (ACC), CropLife America, CropLife International (CLI), the European Chemical Industry Council (Cefic), the European Crop Care Association (ECCA), the Association européenne pour la protection des cultures (ECPA) and the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) all intervened in support of the form of the order sought by the Commission. The decision, and, in particular, the limitations placed on the scope of what is to be considered “information on emissions into the environment” provides helpful guidance and ensures that the exceptions provided for disclosure do not swallow the general rules under which institutions must refuse access to documents.
More information on glyphosate issues is available on our blog.
By Lisa M. Campbell and Lisa R. Burchi
On April 30, 2018, the U.S. District Court for D.C. issued a memorandum opinion that sets forth the reasons for its denial of defendant Monsanto Company’s (Monsanto) motion to dismiss in a case in which the plaintiffs allege that certain glyphosate label claims violate the District of Columbia Consumer Protection Procedures Act (DCCPPA) (Opinion). The order denying Monsanto’s motion to dismiss was issued on March 31, 2018, but did not provide any substantive discussion as to why it was denied, only that a statement that the reasons would be provided in 30 days.
Plaintiffs Beyond Pesticides, et al.’s amended complaint alleges that under the DCCPPA “the claim that Roundup targets an enzyme ‘found in plants but not in people or pets’ is false and misleading because that enzyme ‘is found in people and pets’” (emphasis in original), because, plaintiffs assert, “glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup, targets an enzyme that exists in ‘gut bacteria’ found in humans and other mammals.” The amended complaint additionally alleges that Monsanto “is aware that its labels and advertising are false … but continues to repeat this claim because ‘consumers are more likely to buy -- and will pay more for -- weed killer formulations that do not affect people and animals.’”
Monsanto’s motion to dismiss, filed on July 10, 2017, stated that plaintiffs’ “claims are time-barred, that Plaintiffs fail to state a claim because the statement at issue is not false or misleading, and that Plaintiffs’ claims are preempted by [the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA)].”
The Opinion outlines the reasons for the court’s conclusion that the claims are not time-barred, at least for purposes of deciding the motion to dismiss. The Opinion states, in response to some of the arguments that the claims were time-barred, that the court has “little trouble concluding that Plaintiffs’ claims are not time-barred in their entirety,” and that Monsanto is “entitled to renew its argument that some portion of Plaintiff’s claims are time-barred at the summary judgment stage.”
With regard to the court’s decision that plaintiffs “have adequately pleaded a claim” that Roundup’s label is false or misleading under the DCCPPA, the Opinion states: “Roundup supposedly targets an enzyme that is not found in people or animals, but that enzyme is, in fact, found in their gut bacteria.” Moreover, the Court notes that “even if the statement on Roundup’s label is not ‘literally false,’ Plaintiffs have also alleged that it is also misleading.” For these reasons, the Opinion states, the Court “cannot conclude that ‘no reasonable person would be deceived’ by the Roundup label, such that dismissal of Plaintiffs’ claims would be appropriate.”
Perhaps of most interest is the Opinion’s discussion of the preemption claim in light of the fact that the claims at issue are claims approved on multiple occasions by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as part of its approval of the label. The Opinion states that “Plaintiffs’ claims are not preempted because the DCCPPA, as it relates to pesticide labels, does not impose a broader or different obligation than FIFRA.” Rather, “[u]nder both statutes, false or misleading statements on a pesticide label are proscribed.” The Opinion cites the Supreme Court case Bates v. Dow Agrosciences LLC, 544 U.S. 431 (2005) in stating that “the question is not whether the statute reaches conduct beyond such labeling,” but “whether the statute ‘impose[s] a labeling requirement that diverges from those set out in FIFRA and its implementing regulations’” (emphasis in original). Moreover, the Opinion finds that a request for declaratory relief is not “functionally a requirement that the company change its label.” Instead, the Opinion distinguishes between the declaration that plaintiffs seek, that Monsanto’s label violates the DCCPPA, and an injunction stating that the declaratory relief requested “would not require Monsanto to change its label, even though it might well ‘induce’ it to do so” (emphasis in original). The Court found that for this reason the requested relief is not preempted by FIFRA.
Registrants should pay attention to the potential implications of this case, and others like it, particularly with regard to label claims that EPA has approved. More information on other glyphosate issues is available on our blog.