Popular weedkiller glyphosate should not be classified as a substance that causes cancer, the European Chemical Agency said on Wednesday, in a decision that will ease concerns at Bayer ahead of its €66bn takeover of Monstanto, the world’s biggest producer of the substance.
Glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup, is one of the most widely-used herbicides in the world, but has been linked with health problems including cancer and organ damage.
The World Health Organisation said in 2015 that the susbtance “probably” causes cancer, but Echa’s committee for risk assessment concluded today that “the available scientific evidence did not meet the criteria to classify glyphosate as a carcinogen, as a mutagen or as toxic for reproduction”.
The recommendation is good news for German chemicals group Bayer, which has been vilified for its courtship of Monsanto. The deal was also built in part on hopes for an expansion of the market for genetically-modified products such as glyphosate-resistant seeds. Monsanto sells a range such seeds in North America, but they have not been approved for use in the European Union.
A final decision on the chemical will be made by the European Commission, but had Echa ruled that glyphosate does cause cancer, the commission would likely have forced companies to warn every customer about its health effects.
The EU already warns that glyphosate is toxic to aquatic life and can cause irreversible eye damage; Echa maintained those warnings.
The decision was criticised by environmental campaigners. Greenpeace EU food policy director Franziska Achterberg said “the data vastly exceeds what’s legally necessary for the EU to ban glyphosate, but Echa has looked the other way”.
However, Echa executive director Geert Dancet has defended the agency’s independence, writing in a series of open letters last week that last week that it is “an organisation built on science”, and its “independence policy builds on international best practice”.