EPA unfazed by health experts’ demand for glyphosate to be banned

The Environmental Protection Authority has shrugged off criticism of its processes by a group of public health experts.

Writing in the latest edition of the New Zealand Medical Journal, the experts argued the authority used unsound methodology in its comments on the herbicide glyphosate, which is used in many weedkillers including Roundup.

AgScience posted an account of their argument HERE.

Glyphosate had been criticised as probably carcinogenic by a specialist agency of the World Health Organisation but the EPA rebutted this.

In their article in the New Zealand Medical Journal, the health experts say the rebuttal was unsound.

The health scientists were led by Professor Jeroen Douwes, of the Centre for Public Health Research at Massey University in Wellington, who wants the herbicide restricted.

He and his team also want the EPA to cancel the report which clears glyphosate of serious health risks.

They say the methodology of the EPA report was not of a sufficient standard to overturn earlier findings that Glyphosate was probably carcinogenic.

But Radio New Zealand reports the authority as saying the scientists themselves have produced a deficient argument.

The EPA said the article contained very little new information and relied significantly on media references and opinion.

It acknowledged public concern around glyphosate, but said it is a scientific organisation and its decisions must be based on evidence and data.

“EPA’s decision-making processes are more extensive and complex than implied in the commentary. The Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act requires us to follow a set process when considering chemicals for reassessment, which is costly.

“The process ensures we spend taxpayers’ money wisely, and that we address those chemicals which present the biggest threat to human health and our environment, in priority order,” the statement said.

The authority added glyphosate was on a watchlist, but other chemicals remained more dangerous.

“For example, paraquat (a weed killer) is currently undergoing reassessment, to be followed by chlorpyrifos (a pesticide), because both chemicals are determined to be considerably more harmful to people and our environment than glyphosate at the present time. This reflects the EPA’s commitment to protecting human health and environmental safety.”

According to an earlier Radio New Zealand report yesterday, Professor Douwes said:

“I don’t think we need glyphosate for private use and so a ban (on private gardens) could be introduced.”

He didn’t think an outright ban would be justified, but he said he did believe some signage on the packaging would be useful to raise awareness of what people are using to they can protect themselves.

He also said a ban could be considered on the use of glyphosate by local councils but it could be too soon to ban the herbicide from farms.


Call for withdrawal of EPA report on weedkiller’s links to cancer

Public health experts have criticised New Zealand’s Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) for its treatment of the herbicide glyphosate, commonly known as Roundup.

In 2015, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) concluded that glyphosate is “probably carcinogenic to humans”. This spurred several countries to ban or restrict the herbicide’s use.

But in this country, the EPA was sceptical of the IARC’S conclusions and commissioned another report. This concluded that glyphosate was unlikely to be genotoxic or carcinogenic to humans.

The New Zealand Medical Journal now has published a critique of the EPA’s report on glyphosate which says it should be withdrawn.

The EPA argued that the difference between its report and the IARC’s arose because the IARC is a “hazard-identification authority”, whereas the EPA is a “regulatory body that needs to cast the net more widely”.

According to the abstract of the article just published in the New Zealand Medical Journal, the authors conclude that the EPA process for evaluating the carcinogenicity of glyphosate was flawed and the post hoc justification invalid. There is no mention of risk assessment or “net-benefit approach” in the EPA report and there is no discussion of current New Zealand glyphosate exposures.

Further, the EPA report quotes heavily from a European Food Safety Authority report, “which is itself markedly flawed, and like the EPA report, relies heavily on industry-funded and industry-manipulated reviews”.

Given the scientific flaws in both reports, the researchers urge that the EPA report be withdrawn; the EPA respond to the concerns raised and for a reassessment to be conducted; and clearer process and better understanding of science be used to inform any future review of hazardous substances in New Zealand.

The critique of the the EPA is reported HERE by scimex.

A post by the authors of the critique was published in SciBlogs (HERE) in August last year.


Fewer weeds, more wheat should result from EPA’s approval of new herbicide

A herbicide to control problematic weeds in wheat crops and thus increase crop yields has been approved by the Environmental Protection Authority.

An application from Bayer New Zealand Limited to import Sakura 850 WG was considered by a decision-making committee convened by the EPA. This product contains pyroxasulfone, an active ingredient not used before in New Zealand.

It will be imported ready-packaged for sale, and is intended for use by commercial growers and contractors, not home-gardeners.

“The EPA has concluded that this product offers considerable benefits to wheat growers,” said General Manager of Hazardous Substances and New Organisms, Dr Fiona Thomson-Carter.

“We are confident that, with the required controls in place, Sakura 850 WG poses negligible risk to aquatic organisms, earthworms, non-target plants, birds and bees. Risks to human health and the environment that could arise from using Sakura 850 WG will be managed by the controls we have set.

“These include creating a 15 metre buffer zone around any bodies of water, and restricting use to once a year at any given location. The product may only be used in the April-May period, which reduces the risk of groundwater contamination.

“Application is restricted to ground-based methods only, with no aerial spraying permitted. The EPA has set a maximum application rate, and there is a range of information that must be included on product labels.

“These controls are designed to ensure that wheat growers can reap the benefits of the product, which include controlling problematic weeds, and so increasing wheat yields and profitability.”

No formulations using a herbicide of this sort are currently available in New Zealand and no local weed species are known to have developed a resistance to them.

Source: Environmental Protection Authority

Experts comment on NZ research linking herbicides to antibiotic resistance

University of Canterbury researchers have found the active ingredients in commonly-used weed killers can cause bacteria to be less susceptible to antibiotics.

The study builds on research published in 2015 that found three common herbicides caused E.coli and Salmonella to become less sensitive to antibiotics.

The new research investigated which ingredients were responsible and found it was the active ingredients to blame.  The researchers suggest regulators should consider these impacts when considering whether such products are safe to use.

They confirmed that the active ingredients of the herbicides, RoundUp, Kamba and 2,4-D (glyphosate, dicamba and 2,4-D, respectively), each alone cause antibiotic resistance at concentrations well below label application rates.

UC Molecular Biology and Genetics Professor Jack Heinemann, of the School of Biological Sciences, in UC’s College of Science, says the key finding was that “bacteria respond to exposure to the herbicides by changing how susceptible they are to antibiotics used in human and animal medicine.”

Professor Heinemann says the herbicides are among the most common manufactured chemical products to which people, pets and livestock in both rural and urban environments are exposed. They are sold in local hardware stores and may be used without training, and there are no controls that prevent children and pets from being exposed in home gardens or parks.

The new paper also finds the inert ingredients (surfactants) that are commonly used in some herbicide formulations and processed foods also cause antibiotic resistance.

The study found an antibiotic resistance response was caused by both the tested surfactants, Tween80 and CMC. Both are also used as emulsifiers in foods like ice cream and in medicines, and both cause antibiotic resistance at concentrations allowed in food and food-grade products.

With expertise in genetic engineering, bacterial genetics and biosafety, Professor Heinemann has some recommendations:

“The sub-lethal effects of industrially manufactured chemical products should be considered by regulators when deciding whether the products are safe for their intended use,” he says.

“More emphasis needs to be placed on antibiotic stewardship compared to new antibiotic discovery. Otherwise, new drugs will fail rapidly and be lost to humanity.”

The researchers first observed this antibiotic resistance in their paper published in the American Society of Microbiology’s journal mBio in 2015. This follow-up study was conducted in order to identify which ingredients in herbicides were responsible.

Antibiotic resistance is the cause of nearly a million additional deaths worldwide from infectious diseases, Professor Heinemann says.

“The United States, for example, estimates that more than two million people are sickened every year with antibiotic-resistant infections, with at least 23,000 dying as a result. By 2050, resistance is estimated to add 10 million annual deaths globally with a cumulative cost to the world economy of US$100 trillion. In other words, roughly twice the population of New Zealand will be lost annually to antibiotic resistance.”

Herbicides are chemicals used to control weeds. Because they kill organisms, they are biocides. As their primary purpose is to kill plants, their effects on some non-target organisms are not as well studied.

Antibiotics are also biocides. Antibiotic resistance allows bacteria that previously could be controlled by antibiotics to continue to cause disease and remain infectious for longer, even in the presence of antibiotics. Resistance to at least one major clinical antibiotic is now found in all human pathogens, and some important pathogens can be resistant to all but one antibiotic, or even all antibiotics. Even in wealthy countries, antibiotic resistance is responsible for billions of dollars of increased health care costs, additional suffering and tens of thousands of deaths each year.

Many biocides have effects on either target or non-target organisms at concentrations that do not kill. These are called sub-lethal effects. When pesticides, including herbicides, are reviewed for their safety by regulators, the focus is on acute and sometimes chronic toxicity using mortality as an endpoint. Much less information is sought on potential sub-lethal effects, particularly for microbes.

The Science Media Centre gathered expert reaction to the paper –

Dr Heather Hendrickson, Senior Lecturer in Molecular Bioscience, Massey University, comments:

“We are living in a microbial world and we have been affecting that world in ways that we have not fully grasped for much of the industrial era. Antibiotics are the set of drugs that we use to kill or disable bacterial pathogens that make us ill. Today, these important medicines are becoming less effective around the globe as bacteria become resistant to them due to our overuse.

“This new paper by Kurenbach et al. is an attempt to understand the effects that some common Herbicides (weed killers) may be having on a set of the microbial multitudes in our soils.

“This paper follows up on the foundational work published in 2015 by the last author, Jack Heinemann, which found that herbicide exposure could change the ability of some bacteria to survive antibiotic exposure. Here, the mechanism of some of the antibiotic effectiveness appeared to be protein pumps called efflux pumps in the bacteria. Bacteria exposed to herbicide start to make these pumps and install them like bilge pumps that purge the herbicides rapidly. Antibiotics can then be jettisoned along with the herbicides when both are present.

“The results of these two studies are not simple but they are worthy of public note for the following reasons:

  1. Exposure to commonly-used herbicides have effects on microbes that can make the bacteria more likely to be killed by some antibiotics but also less likely to be killed by other antibiotics.
  2. The microbes used here was a pair of bacteria, Salmonella enterica and Escherichia coli, both of which can be human pathogens. These are both on the 2017 WHO bacteria for R&D into new antibiotics list as Priority 1 ‘critical concern’.
  3. The antibiotics used in this study were clinically-relevant antibiotics that we are using in human medicine today like ciprofloxacin and kanamycin.
  4. The herbicides used in this study are available widely and there is little current regulation on their use.
  5. It was the active ingredients in the herbicides (not the extra, ‘co-formulant’ additives) that had the greatest effects on antibiotic effectiveness.
  6. The concentrations of herbicides and antibiotics used in this study were within ranges that might be experienced by bacteria we encounter daily.

“The message from the paper is clear, we need to reconsider our use of herbicides in light of the effect that they are having on the microbial world.”

Dr Siouxsie Wiles, Microbiologist and Senior Lecturer, University of Auckland, comments:

“This paper is very timely, as this week is World Antibiotic Awareness Week in which the World Health Organization, the Ministry of Health, the Royal Society Te Apārangi and others are raising awareness of the crisis of antibiotic resistance. Antibiotics are losing their ability to kill bacteria. This means that we face a future in which routine surgery and medical treatments such as chemotherapy will be life-threateningly risky, and common infections untreatable. This crisis is caused in part because bacteria are able to mutate to become resistant to antibiotics, and because the discovery of new antibiotics has ground to a halt over the last few decades.

“This paper by Professor Jack Heinemann and his colleagues builds on their earlier work looking at the impact of pesticides on bacteria. Now they have shown that exposure of two common gut bacteria to commercial pesticide formulations and some of their active ingredients can change how much antibiotic is needed to kill the bacteria. The bacteria they have examined (Salmonella Typhimurium and Escherichia coli) are both able to infect humans and other animals, including farm animals.

“Prof Heinemann’s findings show how complex biology and the microbial world are. Some of the ingredients made the bacteria more sensitive to some antibiotics, and others made them less sensitive to antibiotics. Fortunately, the type of resistance Prof Heinemann and his colleagues found is not the type that can transfer from one species of bacteria to another, but it is clearly still cause for concern.

“For me, their most striking finding was that surfactants, which are inert ingredients commonly used in all sorts of products, also increased resistance of the bacteria to various antibiotics. This means that it’s likely that many of the products we routinely use in our environment, our homes and on our bodies, may be contributing to making some bacteria more difficult to treat with antibiotics. With the crisis we are facing, that’s a real worry.”

Agricultural organisations join to promote bee safety

The responsible use of products is the driver for the bee responsible campaign launched by Agcarm, NZ Aviation in Agriculture, and Rural Contractors New Zealand.

The campaign is being promoted during September to coincide with Bee Aware Month as well as the peak sale of agrichemicals.

Agcarm chief executive Mark Ross said agrichemicals are vital for ensuring the security of the food supply and, when used responsibly, “pose no threat to our bee population.” But “we must remain vigilant and address any potential risks to our bees.”

He emphasised the importance of manufacturers of agrichemicals having clear label statements regarding safety precautions for their products, including describing how to protect pollinators.

European agency does not classify glyphosate as a carcinogen

The European Chemicals Agency’s Committee for Risk Assessment has agreed to maintain the current harmonised classification of glyphosate as a substance causing serious eye damage and being toxic to aquatic life with long-lasting effects.

But it concluded that the available scientific evidence did not meet the criteria to classify glyphosate as a carcinogen, as a mutagen or as toxic for reproduction.

The committee said it has assessed all the scientific data, including any scientifically relevant information received during the public consultation in summer 2016.

Its  classification is based solely on the hazardous properties of the substance. It does not take into account the likelihood of exposure to the substance and therefore does not address the risks of exposure.

The Science Media Centre has posted two expert opinions from Britain (HERE) on the ruling.

Prof Jan Hengstler, Head of the Department of Toxicology / Systems Toxicology, Leibniz Research Centre for Working Environment and Human Factors (IfADO), TU Dortmund, Dortmund, comments:

“The European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) Committee on Risk Assessment (RAC) has concluded that the substance glyphosate does not meet the criteria to be classified as a carcinogen, as a mutagen or as toxic for reproduction. This conclusion is scientifically justified. Both the available long-term studies in rats and mice as well as epidemiological data do not justify the conclusion that glyphosate is carcinogenic or mutagenic. Under current conditions of use of glyphosate there is no increased cancer risk for humans. Compared to other herbicides, a relatively large number of studies is available on the substance glyphosate, so that a comparatively good assessment with regard to the carcinogenic risk is possible. The conclusion of the ECHA is not surprising, since no new studies were available compared to earlier evaluations.”

Prof Alan Boobis, Professor of Biochemical Pharmacology, Imperial College London, comments:

“ECHA are to be congratulated on their critical evaluation of a large and complex dataset on glyphosate. They have concluded that the totality of the evidence is that glyphosate should not be considered a human carcinogen. It is important that such objective, independent and comprehensive assessments are available to help policy makers in reaching evidence-based decisions”

Application to extend use of herbicide Callisto approved

The Environmental Protection Authority has approved an application from Syngenta Crop Protection to extend the use of the herbicide Callisto. This is a previously approved herbicide, which contains the active ingredient mesotrione.

The application sought to change the application rate and frequency of Callisto to allow it to be effective when used on turf. This has been approved with controls. There is no change to the application method.

The application was open for public submissions and three submissions were received. No hearing was held for this application.

Applications and Assessment General Manager Sarah Gardner said the EPA decision-making committee assessed the benefits, risks and costs associated with the herbicide during the various stages of its life cycle.

Controls are conditions or rules imposed on the approval that restrict the use of the substance to ensure people and the environment are protected properly when it is used, for example controls might require users to wear protective masks or gloves when spraying.

In this case the revised controls include the wearing of personal protective equipment, setting of a maximum application rate and minimum re-application interval, the type of spray nozzle that must be used and imposition of buffer zones downwind of water bodies and non-target plants. These controls must be set out on the product label.