Good News: Enviro victory as at long last EPA must re-assess the risks of RoundUp

Farmworkers are often exposed to RoundUp through their work, such as picking strawberries, putting them at greater health risk from exposure. Credit: Lance Cheung, USDA

By Gillian Ramirez, Alliance Intern from University of California, San Diego

 Environmental groups (including the Alliance) had a major victory in their decades long fight to ban the use of the hazardous herbicide glyphosate (RoundUp) after the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals struck down the US Environmental Protection Agency’s decision to allow its continued, widespread use. Glyphosate is a known carcinogen “linked with an increased risk of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.” It also kills “milkweed plants that once blanketed much of the country, providing critical forage for the imperiled Monarch butterfly,” according to the NRDC.

In January 2020, despite glyphosate’s widespread harms, the EPA came out with a decision that permitted continued glyphosate use across the country with no meaningful changes. As a result, a lawsuit brought by NRDC, Pesticide Action Network North America (PANNA), and a coalition of groups sued to throw out this faulty analysis and to rein in glyphosate’s use. According to the NRDC, there are three major takeaways from the Court’s decision.

First, “The Court rejected EPA’s finding that glyphosate does not cause cancer.” The EPA claimed glyphosate “does not present any risks to human health” which is contradictory to the International Agency for Research on Cancer’s 2015 conclusion. The contradictory statements of the EPA in recent years about glyphosate safety and the lacking scientific foundation for their claims led the Court to force the EPA to “revisit its cancer determination and release a revised assessment.”

Second, “[the] EPA violated the Endangered Species Act.” As stated in the ESA, agencies are required to “analyze the effects of their actions on endangered and threatened species…before the action so agencies can ensure that their actions are not likely to jeopardize those species.” The EPA went through with their decisions before analyzing the anticipated threat of glyphosate which “harms nearly 1700 threatened species- over 90% of those listed.”  

Third, “[the] EPA must re-issue its ecological assessment by October 1, 2022…It will either address the serious deficiencies raised by NRDC and PANNA, or we will be back in court.” According to the EPA, they were not able to complete their review and respond so they are planning further investigation.

These are major steps in the right direction, but the fight continues until there are heavy restrictions on glyphosate. The Court’s decision cannot be understated as “had the Court sided with EPA, we would have been stuck with widespread glyphosate use for at least another fifteen years — the next time EPA will do a similar re-assessment.” 

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