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More objectivity called for in the discussion surrounding active ingredient testing for glyphosate within the EU

25/2015, 28.09.2015

Addressing the German Parliamentary Committee for Nutrition, the BfR President reports on the reasons for the different assessments by the IARC and the BfR of the carcinogenic potential of glyphosate

On the occasion of the 40th Conference of the German Parliamentary Committee for Nutrition and Agriculture on 28 September 2015, the President of the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) reported on the current state of active ingredient testing for glyphosate within the EU. In his report, the BfR President demanded more objectivity in the discussion and reminded his audience of the legal basis of the scientific independence of the BfR. "I find it disconcerting when independent institutions such as BfR are publicly suspected, without any objective foundation whatsoever, of being influenced by business or politics while implementing their legal mandate," said BfR President Professor Dr. Dr. Andreas Hensel. "Any attempts at directly influencing scientific assessments through allegations and even at systematically damaging the professional reputation of BfR and the scientists employed there contradict the fundamental objective of BfR as originally articulated by the German Parliament." When BfR was founded following the so-called BSE crisis, the independence and impartiality of its scientific assessments as well as a strict separation between assessment and politics were defined in the legislation in order to ensure autonomous and comprehensive scientific assessment as a foundation for political decisions. The President urged his listeners to continue the discussion surrounding scientific studies with relevant scientific arguments and to engage, when necessary, in controversial debates. "Once the scientific assessment process of the active ingredient testing for glyphosate has been completed, politicians then have solid scientific knowledge on which to base all decisions regarding an adequate EU approval procedure."

The BfR President reported on the state of the EU approval procedure for the active pesticide ingredient glyphosate, the scientific side of which has not yet been completed. In an addendum to the assessment report for the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), BfR assessed all of the studies that the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) had cited in its monograph on the classification of glyphosate. Having considered and assessed all studies mentioned by IARC, BfR further comes to the conclusion that, according to the current state of scientific knowledge, no health risks are to be expected from glyphosate, provided its agricultural application is carried out correctly and in accordance with its intended use. The EU member states have now commented on the addendum, explicitly emphasizing the scientific excellence and accuracy of the BfR assessment.

IARC classified glyphosate as “probably carcinogenic for humans”. In compliance with its scientific duty of care and awareness of public concern, the BfR report urged EFSA to take into account the monograph of IARC in the EU active ingredient procedure, even though the detailed version of this monograph was published over three months after the submission date of the BfR assessment report.

The different assessments of IARC, BfR and other European and non-European assessment authorities and committees are the result of different assessment approaches. The mandate of IARC is to identify substances with carcinogenic potential. In contrast to IARC, the risk assessment of BfR takes into consideration both the risk analysis and the real intake quantity under intended use conditions. Nor does IARC make any recommendations for regulation or legislation. Another reason for the differing assessments of IARC and BfR is that IARC did not assess solely the pure active ingredient glyphosate but also glyphosate-containing pesticides. Apart from the active ingredient, such pesticides also contain additives, some of which are more toxic than their active ingredient glyphosate.

In contrast and in accordance with the legislation governing the European active ingredient procedure, only the pure active ingredient is initially assessed and approved. Subsequently, a decision is made in a separate procedure as to whether the pesticides, i.e. the relevant mixtures of active ingredient and additives, will be authorised for a given EU zone in accordance with the conditions of its intended use.

In Germany and the European Union, there is a strict separation between government agencies concerned with risk assessment on the one hand and risk management on the other. In conjunction with all member states, the EU Commission makes decisions regarding the approval of the active pesticide ingredient glyphosate on the basis of the EFSA recommendation. EFSA has commissioned Germany to draw up a first assessment report, which will be reviewed and edited at the European level. The BfR was instructed by the Federal Office of Consumer Protection and Food Safety (BVL) to conduct a health assessment of glyphosate. Apart from the report component of BfR, the interim reports of the Federal Environment Agency (UBA) and the Julius Kühn Institute (JKI) on the environmental impact and the effectiveness of the substance were incorporated in the German assessment report.

About the BfR

The German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) is a scientific institution within the portfolio of the Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture (BMEL) in Germany. It advises the Federal Government and Federal Laender on questions of food, chemical and product safety. The BfR conducts its own research on topics that are closely linked to its assessment tasks.

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