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US EPA prohibits cancer warnings on glyphosate labels

The US EPA has stated that labels for products containing glyphosate cannot include claims that the herbicide causes cancer.

Labels for products containing glyphosate cannot include claims that the herbicide causes cancer, the US EPA has said. The Agency gives its guidance in a letter to product registrants.

"It is irresponsible to require labels on products that are inaccurate when EPA knows the product does not pose a cancer risk," says EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler.

The Agency issued the policy in an August 7th letter sent to glyphosate registrants, explaining that the move is in response to California's Proposition 65 listing of the widely-used herbicide. Approved by California voters in 1986, Prop 65 requires warnings on products containing chemicals, which the state determines could cancer, birth defects or other reproductive harm. Citing a 2015 determination by the UN WHO's International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) that glyphosate is a "probable human carcinogen", California added glyphosate to the Prop 65 list in June 2017.

The listing decision drew litigation from Bayer legacy company Monsanto, the National Association of Wheat Growers and other US agricultural groups. In February 2018, US District Court Judge William Shubb sided with the plaintiffs and imposed a preliminary injunction barring the state from mandating Prop 65 warnings until the litigation had been resolved. In his ruling, Judge Shubb said that including the cancer claims on product labels would not be "factually accurate" given that "heavy weight of evidence in the record" does not support the contention that glyphosate is a human carcinogen.

California cannot "dictate federal policy"

Mr Wheeler points out that it is critical that federal regulatory agencies such as the EPA relay to consumers accurate, science-based information about risks that pesticides may pose to them. "We will not allow California’s flawed program to dictate federal policy," he asserts.

The Agency says that it would no longer approve labels bearing the cancer claims, saying that they are "misleading" and would misinform the public about the risks posed by the herbicide. "EPA’s notification to glyphosate registrants is an important step in ensuring the information shared with the public on a federal pesticide label is correct and not misleading,” notes Mr Wheeler.

The EPA noted that its most recent review of glyphosate, completed in April, "found – as it has before – that glyphosate is not a carcinogen, and there are no risks to public health when glyphosate is used in accordance with its current label". That conclusion, the Agency noted, is consistent with the findings "of science reviews by many other countries and other federal agencies".

California's reliance on the IARC classification of glyphosate as "probably carcinogenic to humans" conflicts with the EPA's own findings, which are based on a "more extensive and relevant dataset than IARC considered during its evaluation", the Agency says. It has asked registrants of glyphosate products, which currently have labels bearing Prop 65 cancer warnings, to "submit draft amended labelling that removes this language within 90 days of the date of the letter".

Bayer litigation

Bayer is facing claims brought against Monsanto by more than 18,400 cancer victims who claim that exposure to the herbicide has caused their illnesses. Cases pending in US federal courts have been consolidated into a multi-district litigation in the Northern District of California for common pre-trial management, the company notes. Bayer reiterates that it will engage in the mediation process ordered by the judge presiding over the multi-district litigation.

The company has lost three cases on the issue each with large awards, despite subsequent reductions upon review. In July, a California state court judge slashed damages awarded to a couple who had claimed that Monsanto's glyphosate-based herbicides had caused their cancer from over $2 billion to under $87 million. Last August, a California jury awarded a former school groundskeeper some $279 million in a similar case. The state judge overseeing that trial reduced the award to some $78 million. In March, a federal jury convened by the US District Court for the Northern District of California awarded another California resident some $80 million. Last month, a federal judge cut that award to just over $25 million.
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