This June, the Environmental Protection Agency concluded that glyphosate, the chemical used in Roundup, is not an endocrine disruptor.
But documents obtained by The Intercept through Freedom of Information Act requests, show that the majority of the evidence the EPA considered was funded by Monsanto, the chemical’s maker. Out of 32 studies, just five were independently funded, and the other 27 were funded by the industry.
All 27 of the industry-backed studies concluded that glyphosate does not cause endocrine disruption, although data within those studies might suggest otherwise. For example, one study found that rats exposed to glyphosate had pregnancy problems at a rate that is statistically significant, but nonetheless the paper concludes that the unsuccessful pregnancies were a random occurrence.
Out of the five independent studies considered by the EPA, three found that even small exposures of the chemical can cause harm to endocrine systems. And other independent research that was not considered by the EPA also finds the pesticide causes harm.
The fact that the sources of research funding can influence the outcome of studies, or in some cases just the interpretation of data even when findings are accurately presented, is well-documented. For example, a 2006 study compared independent meta-reviews with industry-funded meta reviews for the same drugs. The paper concluded that the industry-backed reviews overwhelming came to pro-industry conclusions.
So it’s disappointing that government agencies are so heavily reliant on research with such a clear conflict of interest, and glyphosate provides yet another example of pesticides receiving a dubious pass from the regulatory agents. However, the EPA has maintained that making manufacturers prove that their products are safe is a way to reduce costs for the cash-strapped agency.
Glyphosate is due to face another, broader safety review in the coming months, which will consider all its potential health effects. It will be the first such review since the World Health Organization classified glyphosate a carcinogen. But if a majority of the evidence considered by the EPA comes from industry-backed research again, it seems unlikely that the regulations of this pesticide will change.