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Brunel toxicologist questions EU report denying cancer risk of weedkiller

Brunel University London’s toxicologist Professor Andreas Kortenkamp was featured in a Nature magazine article commenting on the continuing debate over the potential danger of glyphosate, a herbicide which is used to kill weeds in cities across the UK.

European and UN bodies have reached very different conclusions about the safety of glyphosate and whether it poses a cancer risk to humans. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) the cancer-research arm of the World Health Organization (a United Nations agency) based in Lyon, France published research in May 2015 which said that glyphosate probably does cause cancer in humans. This was based on work by 17 experts from 11 countries.

Earlier this month, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) which provides scientific risk assessments to the European Commission, released a report which said that glyphosate is unlikely to pose a cancer risk to humans but that its use should be limited and “proposed — for the first time in the European Union — that there should be a limit on how much glyphosate is safe for a person to ingest in a short period of time”.

Professor Kortenkamp has written extensively on the potential harm to humans from common chemicals such as glyphosate, calling on a more precautionary approach and regulation by industry. He examined how these bodies reached these conflicting conclusions, and found problems with the EFSA process.

“Both Guyton at the IARC and Andreas Kortenkamp, a toxicologist at Brunel University London, say that they cannot always follow how EFSA came to its conclusions, because of unclear language.

From the IARC monograph I see where they are coming from and how they evaluated it. The EFSA statements make this a little difficult,” says Kortenkamp. For example, one statement in the EFSA report — “no classification for mutagenicity is warranted” — is traced to a teleconference call and not otherwise explained, Kortenkamp says.”

From Nature, 13 November 2015

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