Roundup, a popular weed killer used commercially and residentially, has been the subject of thousands of lawsuits. To date, Roundup manufacturer Monsanto has settled over 100,000 claims that the herbicide causes cancer. Despite these settlements, thousands of Roundup cases are still pending in federal and state courts concerning the product’s carcinogenic effects. Throughout the litigation and research surrounding Roundup, the Environmental Protection Agency has remained adamant that the product’s active ingredient, glyphosate, does not cause cancer. However, the EPA recently withdrew its 2020 risk assessment in which the agency determined glyphosate is an unlikely human carcinogen.
The EPA’s History With Glyphosate
According to the U.S. government, the purpose of the Environmental Protection Agency is to “protect people and the environment from significant health risks, sponsor and conduct research, and develop and enforce environmental regulations.” Yet, advocacy groups and scientists have criticized the transparency and decision-making within the EPA.
Glyphosate has been a registered pesticide in the U.S. since 1974. The EPA claims that glyphosate has undergone a registration review every 15 years to reassess the safety of the pesticide for the environment and humans. Controversy surfaced once the EPA reauthorized glyphosate in January 2020 and published its review in February. Per its decision, the EPA stated there are no risks of concern to human health when glyphosate applicators use it according to its label. Furthermore, in this same review, the EPA deemed glyphosate an unlikely human carcinogen. While the EPA outlined risk mitigation actions such as label changes, it concluded that the benefits of glyphosate outweigh the potential ecological risks.
Consumer Advocacy Groups Challenge the EPA’s Glyphosate Review
Shortly after the EPA released its interim decision on glyphosate, environmental, food safety, and agricultural advocacy groups, such as the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Center for Food Safety, and the Rural Coalition, filed suit in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. In June 2022, the appeals court sided with the petitioners that the EPA did not adequately assess glyphosate’s risk to human health and the environment. Instead, Judge Michelle Friedland stated that the EPA failed to justify its findings and criticized the approval process. The court ordered the EPA to update its risk assessment by October 1, 2022.
EPA Withdraws Glyphosate Risk Assessment
The EPA could not meet the October 1 deadline and decided to withdraw its glyphosate risk assessment altogether. In order to complete an Endangered Species Act review and conduct a new health-assessment analysis, the EPA claimed it would require many months. The agency informed the court that it will redirect its efforts to Roundup’s ongoing registration review, expected in 2026. Although the EPA walked away from the legal case, the agency asserted that this does not mean it has changed its stance on glyphosate. The EPA reiterated that it still believes that glyphosate is not likely to be a human carcinogen.