Glyphosate, the most-popular herbicide in the United States, has recently been classified by the World Health Organization ("WHO") as a potential carcinogen. At present, glyphosate is a key ingredient in more than 700 products used world-wide and has risen in popularity as farmers increase their cultivation of genetically modified crops. In 2012, at least 283.5 million pounds of glyphosate were used in relation to United States agriculture, up from 110 million pounds in 2002.
This past March, the International Agency for Research on Cancer, a WHO agency, published a report in the United Kingdom which links occupational exposure to glyphosate to an increased risk for non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. The agency further tested the impact of exposure to glyphosate on mice and found a positive trend for development of rare cancer tumors in male mice including renal tubule carcinoma and haemangiosarcoma.
Glyphosate's "potentially carcinogenic" classification came after WHO received pressure from several consumer and environmental groups which specifically targeted glyphosate for evaluation. WHO's decision may have led to action by the Environmental Protection Agency ("EPA") and United States Department of Agriculture ("USDA"). Following the WHO classification, the EPA placed restrictions on the use of glyphosate against weeds after discovering at least fourteen species of weeds world-wide which are resistant to glyphosate. At present, the EPA does not classify glyphosate as a carcinogen.
While the EPA's present restrictions are not targeting human health concerns, advocacy groups are urging the EPA to consider the health effects of exposure to glyphosate. On March 26, 2015, the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Center for Food Safety sent a joint letter to EPA administrator, Gina McCarthy, advocating for the EPA to "weigh heavily" on the WHO's findings as it prepares a risk assessment of herbicides. The EPA's new study will be released later this year.