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EPA withdraws interim registration, but glyphosate remains in use

The EPA withdrew its interim approval of glyphosate, the most widely used weedkiller in the world, while insisting that the herbicide is safe to use and does not cause cancer. In a court filing, the EPA said it would concentrate on completing the periodic review of glyphosate required by law, most likely in 2026.

Glyphosate would remain in use while the so-called registration review is underway. Best known under the trade name Roundup, glyphosate was first approved for use in the United States in 1974. Its maker, Bayer, is defending the chemical against hundreds of lawsuits that allege it is carcinogenic.

“What EPA should do instead is cancel glyphosate products until and unless it re-assesses its risks and assures its safety in a lawful way,” said attorney Amy Van Saun of the Center for Food Safety, one of the environmental groups that challenged the interim decision in court. The EPA “was simply taking its ball and going home,” rather than carrying out directions by the federal appeals court in San Francisco to re-assess the human health risks and consult with wildlife agencies on the impact of glyphosate on threatened and endangered species.

The EPA said it could not complete the ecological review by the Oct. 1 deadline set by the Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in its June decision. The process of undertaking consultations, drafting a document, seeking public comment, and analyzing the comments commonly takes months. Because the 2020 interim decision (ID) was “an informal adjudication … EPA may withdraw all or a portion of it without public comment,” said the EPA in a memorandum filed with the court.

“Although the glyphosate ID is now vacated in part and the remainder withdrawn, that does not automatically mean that EPA’s underlying scientific findings regarding glyphosate — including its finding that glyphosate is not likely to be carcinogenic to humans — are either incorrect or cannot be used as support for a future decision following reconsideration in accordance with the court’s decision,” said the agency.

In describing its next steps, the EPA said it “intends to revisit and better explain its evaluation of the carcinogenic potential of glyphosate and to consider whether to do so for other aspects of its human health analysis.” It also would study the in-field effects of glyphosate on the monarch butterfly and consider, after consulting with wildlife agencies, whether additional or different mitigation measures would be needed to protect endangered species.

The agency said it “anticipates issuing a final registration review decision for glyphosate in 2026.”

Bayer announced in May 2021 that it would introduce new lawn and garden weedkillers in 2023 to replace Roundup. “We are taking this action exclusively to manage litigation risk and not because of any safety concerns,” said Bayer. “The vast majority of claims have come from residential L&G users, so this action largely eliminates the primary source of future claims.” Glyphosate would remain on the market for agricultural and professional use, said Bayer.

Bayer has won five Roundup trials in a row, most recently in Missouri earlier this month. It has been unsuccessful in gaining Supreme Court review of its argument that EPA approval of glyphosate has preempted state courts from hearing lawsuits that say cancer warnings should have appeared on Roundup containers.

Produced with FERN, non-profit reporting on food, agriculture, and environmental health.

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