Updated: December 20, 2016
Last week, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) held its long-anticipated Scientific Advisory Panel meeting on the cancer-causing potential of glyphosate, the main ingredient in Roundup weed killer. The panel was a sobering reminder that the pesticide industry has tremendous influence over EPA’s review process.
Here's a quick recap: Under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA), the agency must review registered pesticides at least every 15 years. This includes evaluating any new science and potentially undertaking a new risk assessment. Roundup was last reregistered in 1993 and EPA initiated the latest reregistration process in 2009.
Fast-forward seven years. The EPA finally released a cancer risk assessment for Roundup in September and scheduled a Scientific Advisory Panel meeting for October. The panel convenes independent scientists who offer technical feedback on the assessment. But with just four days to go, the agency postponed the meeting.
The EPA’s initial announcement stated the delay was due to “changes in the availability of experts” and a need for additional epidemiological expertise. But just two days prior to the postponement, CropLife America, a lobbying arm for the pesticide industry, sent a letter to the agency opposing the inclusion of epidemiologist Dr. Peter Infante as a member. Its reasoning? Dr. Infante has a “conflict of interest” due in part to his criticism of industry studies and his previous testimonies against Monsanto in chemical exposure cases.
The EPA rescheduled the Scientific Advisory Panel for December, with Dr. Infante absent from the list of panelists. Dr. Infante clearly did not have a scheduling conflict as he showed up to deliver comments as a member of the public. He spoke about the “impressive evidence” of Roundup’s link to non-Hodgkin lymphoma. (In contrast, EPA’s cancer review says there is no evidence that Roundup causes cancer.)
Let’s be clear: Expressing concern over the potential harmful health effects of a pesticide should not be considered a conflict of interest. This is yet another example of the industry fighting to manipulate the science concerning Roundup. CropLife America urged EPA in July not to hold the Scientific Advisory Panel in the first place. And Monsanto commissioned a separate review of Roundup that was published just two weeks after EPA’s was released that concludes, unsurprisingly, that Roundup does not cause cancer. A bit of digging revealed that most of the “independent” scientists on the company’s panel have been employed by or have contracted for Monsanto in the past. Some have even been paid big money to intervene on behalf of corporations like Dow and DuPont in major legal settlements.
Representatives from these powerful industry interests were present during the public comment portions of last week’s Scientific Advisory Panel meeting, outnumbering advocacy groups by nearly two to one. Monsanto had the floor for an entire morning. Other industry representatives spoke for 30 minutes or more in the afternoon. By contrast, I was given a five-minute time limit to speak on behalf of Food & Water Watch. Another representative from an advocacy group was interrupted when her comments exceeded five minutes.
Watching EPA give preference to the industries with financial ties to Roundup undermines the integrity of the review process. The Scientific Advisory Panel gets to offer a recommendation to EPA, and fortunately, some of them disagree with the agency’s findings. The panel now has 90 days to deliberate and offer its recommendation.
The EPA cannot keep ignoring the science pointing to Roundup’s cancer-causing potential. The agency must stop bowing to industry pressure and make a determination that prioritizes public health – not industry pocketbooks.