German court decides public can't see industry toxicity studies on glyphosate
17 December 2012
When it comes to pesticide risks, commercial confidentiality beats public interest and access to information, a court in Germany has decided.
The court in Braunschweig, Germany ruled on 12 December that there is no public interest reason to publish the original industry toxicity studies on glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup herbicide, on which the EU approval of glyphosate is based.
The ruling came in a legal case brought against Germany by Pesticide Action Network Europe and Greenpeace Netherlands. The groups had challenged the delay in the EU review of glyphosate, which was scheduled for 2012 but was delayed by the Commission until 2015. They also challenged the fact that the industry toxicity tests on glyphosate which underlie its EU approval are kept secret under "commercial confidentiality" agreements between regulators and industry.
According to the court the public is sufficiently informed through summaries of industry data/studies which are made available to the public. The public has no right to get the original data of these studies. The summaries are seen as the perfect legislative compromise between the interests of the companies and of the public.
Heike Moldenhauer, biotech expert of Friends of the Earth Germany, commented on the court proceedings:
"For me the main lesson was that BVL claimed that only industry science is good science – all other [independent] studies are irrelevant and cannot play a role in the approval process. The BVL representatives were completely clear about that."
The PAN and Greenpeace lawyer stressed at the beginning the fundamental significance of the case: Only industry studies are accepted in pesticide risk assessment; they are not public; and independent studies are dismissed. This procedure would never be accepted in the independent scientific community, where findings are evaluated through peer-reviewed publication, open discussion, and possible replication or improvement of published experiments by other scientists.
Our conclusion: We have to change the system!
The court case was held in Braunschweig because the headquarters of BVL – Germany's Federal Office of Consumer Protection and Food Safety - is located there. BVL is the responsible authority in Germany for glyphosate and GMOs.
Germany is the rapporteur member state for glyphosate in the EU, responsible for liaising between industry, the EU member states and the Commission in the matter of the authorisation of the pesticide. The original industry tests on glyphosate are kept in an unknown location somewhere in Germany and have never been disclosed to the public.
Decades-old scandal of hidden industry data on pesticides
Prof Gilles-Eric Seralini, whose latest research showed that tiny doses of Roundup and also GM maize NK603 had serious health effects on rats tested over two years, has consistently called for the industry data on which the approvals of pesticides and GMOs are granted to be made public.
To critics who insisted that he make public all the raw data for his recent experiments, he responded that he will do so when all the industry data on GMOs and pesticides are made public in a usable form. In this way, the public and the scientific community can make a direct comparison between the industry studies and those of independent researchers.
Researchers at the science policy platform Earth Open Source believe that a host of dangers may be hidden in secret industry studies on pesticides and other risky substances. The group joined up with independent scientists to examine Germany's report on the industry tests on glyphosate, dating back to the 1980s. Germany's report revealed that the pesticide caused birth defects in lab animals even in industry's own tests. These effects were dismissed by Germany without proper scientific justification.
Prompted by Seralini's latest findings that Roundup caused increased tumours in treated rats, Earth Open Source looked at what the German authorities had to say about industry's carcinogenicity tests on glyphosate. Again, the findings were worrying: Industry's own tests revealed that glyphosate caused increased tumours in experimental animals.
As with the birth defects, the carcinogenic effects were dismissed by Germany. Germany argued that the tumour incidence did not increase in a straight line as dose increased (linear dose-response), even though nonlinear effects are common with toxins affecting the hormonal system.
Germany also introduced irrelevant "historical control data", which had the effect of masking the findings of tumours in treated groups.
Without access to the secret industry tests on glyphosate, it is impossible to be more certain of the risks posed by the pesticide. The public is still being kept in the dark.