More questions than answers in report

Six months ago the Green Party launched a campaign to stop the use of glyphosate-based herbicides, such as Roundup, being used to control weeds in our streets, parks and playgrounds. In that time thousands of people have signed our petition seeking an urgent full reassessment of glyphosate and glyphosate based herbicides.

The Green Party decided to call for a full reassessment of glyphosate after a report last year by the World Health Organisation identified glyphosate as a “probable carcinogen” – meaning it probably causes cancer in humans.

Yesterday the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced it had undertaken a review of the evidence relating to the possible carcinogenicity of glyphosate – essentially asking the question does glyphosate cause cancer in humans?

Unfortunately, the EPA’s review appears to have fallen well shy of being a full reassessment of glyphosate and glyphosate based herbicides. The EPA authors used selective science to come their conclusions and as a result their conclusions are wrong.

This EPA’s review concluded that glyphosate is unlikely to be carcinogenic to humans or genotoxic (damaging to genetic material or DNA). Based on this conclusion they went on to say that glyphosate products approved in New Zealand are safe to use.

I consider the EPA review to have been selective because it only looks  at the carcinogenicity and genotoxicity of glyphosate – essentially whether it causes cancer or not. The review does not  consider the myriad of other potential health risks that have been associated with glyphosate. Other health risks that have been raised include hormone disruption that can occur at very low levels of exposure, risk to fertility, and negative impacts on the effectiveness of antibiotics.

A full reassessment of glyphosate based herbicides should include assessments of the full herbicide formulations as they are actually used. It should also measure the real life exposure to glyphosate that people in New Zealand experience from food and environmental exposure.

Another concern regarding the review is that it relies heavily on studies which are based on science supplied, and paid for, by the industry involved in the production of glyphosate herbicides.

It’s worthwhile noting that the European Union Commission has taken a much more precautionary position on glyphosate than our EPA. The Commission made three clear recommendations to EU member states:

  1. minimise the use of the substance in public parks, public playgrounds and gardens;
  2. minimise the pre-harvest use of glyphosate.
  3. ban a co-formulant called POE-tallowamine from glyphosate based products;

I’m certainly not yet convinced we should be spraying glyphosate based herbicides in public spaces, particularly our parks and schools where children are getting up close with plants and grasses that have been sprayed.

The EPA should be taking a precautionary approach to the use of glyphosate. That means prohibiting or minimising the use of glyphosate until it has been fully assessed for the full range of potentially harmful effects on human health and the environment.

Many major cities around the world, including Paris, Chicago, Rotterdam and Barcelona, have all decided to ban or limit the use of glyphosate based herbicides, and opted for alternatives they know are safe, effective and affordable.

New Zealand should be doing the same.