European Union scientists are facing off over a World Health Organization study which indicated the popular herbicide glyphosate was “probably carcinogenic” to humans.

The head of the EU’s European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) disagrees with the conclusions of the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC).

In March 2015, Truth In Media reported that the IARC published a report in The Lancet Oncology detailing evaluations of organophosphate pesticides and herbicides. The report concluded that there was “limited evidence of carcinogenicity in humans for non-Hodgkin lymphoma.” The evidence for this conclusion was pulled from studies of exposure to the chemical in the US, Canada and Sweden published since 2001.

The researchers found “convincing evidence that glyphosate can also cause cancer in laboratory animals.” The report points out that the United States Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA) had originally classified glyphosate as possibly carcinogenic to humans in 1985.

The IARC Working Group evaluated the original EPA findings and more recent reports before concluding “there is sufficient evidence of carcinogenicity in experimental animals.” Despite the WHO’s findings, the EPA approved Monsanto’s use of glyphosate as recently as 2013.

Glyphosate is not only the most widely-used herbicide, it is a key ingredient in biotech giant Monsanto’s popular RoundUp products. Glyphosate is only one of Monsanto’s products that have been recently connected to cancer, however. In June the IARC also found that the weed killer 2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid, known as 2,4-D, “possibly” causes cancer in humans.

Bernhard Url, Executive Director of the EFSA, does not support the conclusions of the IARC study.

The EFSA issued an official opinion on the matter in November 2015, stating “glyphosate is unlikely to pose a carcinogenic hazard to humans and the evidence does not support classification with regard to its carcinogenic potential.”

Url’s position did not sit well with environmental activists who agreed with the study’s findings.

As Reuters reports, “Ninety-six academics from around the world signed an open letter to European Health Commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitis, dated Nov. 27, urging EU authorities to ignore the European watchdogs’s opinion.”

“We urge you and the European Commission to disregard the flawed EFSA finding on glyphosate in your formulation of glyphosate health and environmental policy for Europe,” the letter said.

The letter was written by Christopher Portier of the non-governmental organization the Environmental Defense Fund. Portier was a specialist consulted as part of the IARC study on glyphosate. Portier’s letter called for “a transparent, open and credible review of the scientific literature”.

On Wednesday, Bernhard Url responded to Portier’s letter. “I strongly disagree with your contention that EFSA has not applied open and objective criteria to its assessment,” Url wrote.

“We should not compare this first screening assessment with the more comprehensive hazard assessment done by authorities such as EFSA, which are designed to support the regulatory process for pesticides in close cooperation with member states in the EU,” Url told Reuters.

Url also said representatives of the EFSA and the IARC will likely meet to clarify their differences. Reuters reported the meeting would likely take place in Brussels in mid-February.

If the European Union’s 28 members decide to yield to the EFSA’s opinion, it could lead to overturning the ban on glyphosate.

Stay tuned to Truth In Media for more details.

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