SAN FRANCISCO—In a federal court filing yesterday the Biden Administration's Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) effectively admitted grave errors in EPA's 2020 interim registration of glyphosate, best known as the active ingredient in Monsanto's Roundup pesticides, and asked the court for permission to re-do the agency's faulty assessments. However, the agency stated that, despite its misgivings, Roundup should nonetheless stay on the market in the interim—without any deadline for a new decision.
EPA's request comes as part of the agency's response to two lawsuits, including one brought by a coalition of farmworkers, farmers, and conservationists represented by Center for Food Safety (CFS), challenging the agency's glyphosate decision. CFS and allies, which filed their opening legal arguments in December, seek to reverse the Trump EPA's unlawful approval, which would mean a prohibition on use or sale of glyphosate herbicides.
Now, instead of continuing to defend its decision in full, EPA is asking the court to permit it to "reconsider" a number of serious failings raised in the lawsuits, including: the impacts to monarch butterflies from sprayed Roundup, which kills the milkweed they require for survival; harm to other endangered species raised in the agencies' own 2020 biological evaluation; the economic and social costs to farmers from Roundup off-field drift; and potentially other unspecified ecological and economic risks. The deficiencies are such that EPA admits it can no longer affirm glyphosate's putative benefits outweigh its risks and costs, or that measures imposed to mitigate risks are at all effective.
"Rather than defend its prior decision, at the 11th hour EPA is asking for a mulligan and indefinite delay, despite having previously spent far too long, over a decade, in re-assessing it," said George Kimbrell, CFS legal director and counsel in the case. "Worse, EPA admits its approval risks harms to farmers and endangered species, but makes no effort to halt it. We will ask the Court to deny this extraordinary request to paper over glyphosate's ecological harms only to approve it anyway down the road. Time to face the music, not run and hide."
EPA also bases its request in part upon its own draft Biological Evaluation, issued in November 2020, which found that glyphosate is likely to adversely affect 93% of exposed species protected under the Endangered Species Act, and 96% of their critical habitats.
In their lawsuit, the coalition addressed the issues EPA wants to reconsider and others as well. For instance, the coalition also presented ample evidence that glyphosate is a human health threat, posing the risk of cancer in particular to farmworkers and others who spray glyphosate-based herbicides. The courts recently re-affirmed a judgment against Monsanto for cancer from Roundup. The coalition additionally demonstrated that glyphosate herbicides have imposed enormous yet uncounted costs on U.S. farmers in the form of glyphosate-resistant superweeds, which have emerged in epidemic manner with the spraying of massive quantities of glyphosate on crops genetically engineered to withstand the herbicide.
EPA is required by law to re-assess each pesticide every 15 years in a process known as registration review. EPA completed part of its registration review of glyphosate in 2020, designating it an "interim" decision because it had failed to assess glyphosate's impacts to endangered species, or complete other key assessments, such as glyphosate's potential to disrupt hormonal systems and harm pollinators. The 2020 interim decision represented EPA's first comprehensive assessment of the herbicide since 1993.
In December 2020, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service determined that Endangered Species Act protection for iconic and once-ubiquitous monarch butterflies was needed in order to protect it from extinction, with its steep decline mainly driven by Roundup and Roundup Ready crop systems.
Represented by Center for Food Safety, the petitioners in the case include the Rural Coalition, Farmworker Association of Florida, Organización en California de Lideres Campesinas, and Beyond Pesticides. A consolidated case is led by Natural Resources Defense Council and includes Pesticide Action Network.