SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) – Fresh off a state-court victory, California regulators this week announced their plans to place glyphosate – the active ingredient in the weed killer Roundup – on a list of chemicals known to cause cancer.
The California Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment said Tuesday it will add the chemical compound to its Proposition 65 list of carcinogenic chemicals. The move represents a significant blow to chemical giant Monsanto, which sued in Fresno County Superior Court in 2015 hoping to prevent the listing.
Monsanto argued California’s reliance on the International Agency for Research on Cancer was unconstitutional, a claim that was ultimately rejected by the judge – prompting regulators to move forward with its listing process.
But on Tuesday, Monsanto filed an appeal with California’s Fifth Appellate District seeking to overturn a decision the company says “will have far-reaching, negative consequences for public safety, environmental protection, governmental budgets and food costs.”
Monsanto also says California’s listing will “cast a cloud over the chemical that will be difficult to dispel,” and also attacked the Proposition 65 list as a “fundamentally anti-democratic provision of a ballot proposition that, by double cross-reference, delegates authority to make California law to an ad hoc group of individuals, serving in their personal capacities and appointed by the staff of an unelected, unaccountable, foreign organization.”
Proposition 65, passed by California voters in 1986, was intended to reduce or eliminate public exposure to toxic chemicals by mandating warning labels on products linked to cancer.
After the International Agency for Research on Cancer concluded glyphosate was a probable carcinogen to humans in 2016, California regulators began the process of listing the compound before the court case commenced.
Monsanto says the office cannot use the International Agency for Research on Cancer’s opinion on glyphosate, and pointed to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s determination that glyphosate and Roundup are safe and no evidence linked the compounds to cancer in humans.
“Regulators around the world, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the European Food Safety Authority and the state of California itself, have determined that glyphosate does not cause cancer,” the company said in an emailed statement. “The agency’s flawed and baseless proposal to list glyphosate under Proposition 65 not only contradicts California’s own scientific assessment, but it also violates the California and U.S. Constitutions.”
Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment spokesman Sam Delson said Proposition 65 explicitly cites the International Agency for Research on Cancer as a potential source for listing.
Recently unsealed documents in a federal court case in Northern California, where a group of plaintiffs claim Roundup caused their strains of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, cast doubt on the integrity the EPA’s findings.
The plaintiffs in that case say a couple of ostensibly objective studies about the relationship between glyphosate and cancer were actually funded – and in some cases ghostwritten – by Monsanto and its employees. Plaintiffs further argue the EPA’s reliance on these flawed studies is the primary reason for its conclusion that Roundup is safe.
The Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment says it is still weighing at what level glyphosate are potentially dangerous, but early indications are that only industrial applications of the compound will be labeled.
“OEHHA is also proposing a regulatory “safe-harbor” level for glyphosate of 1,100 micrograms per day, which means that exposures below that level are not considered a significant risk and would not require a warning,” the agency said in a statement.
At this point, it is unclear if general consumer-use bottles of Roundup will be labeled.
The agency will initiate a comment period through May 22, barring a stay by the appellate court. Monsanto asked for a stay on the listing process pending appeal.
Proposition 65 is a right-to-know law that requires the state to maintain a list of chemicals known to cause cancer, birth defects or other reproductive harm, but has no power to ban the chemicals outright.
The requirement to provide warnings takes effect one year after a chemical is added to the list, the agency said in a statement.