EU court overturns EFSA decision to withhold unpublished studies

By Jane Byrne

- Last updated on GMT

© GettyImages/Zerbor
© GettyImages/Zerbor
The European Food Safety Agency (EFSA) must disclose details of studies on the toxicity and carcinogenic properties of glyphosate to lawmakers, concluded an EU court.

Two cases were brought to the EU General Court by four Green Party MEPs, among others. 

'This case and the Court’s ruling is important because it provides orientation for EFSA and others charged with interpreting EU legislation on public access to documents, particularly in relation to the Aarhus Regulation.' 

- European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) 

The EU General Court, in a finding​released today, overruled the decisions of EFSA to refuse access to details of studies it had used to assess the safety of glyphosate on the grounds the release of such data could harm the commercial interests of companies behind the studies.

"The requested studies must be regarded as constituting information which ‘relates to emissions into the environment’ and that an overriding public interest in disclosing the studies is deemed to exist. EFSA could not therefore refuse to disclose them on the ground that that would have an adverse effect on the protection of the commercial interests of the owners of the requested studies," ​determined that top EU court. 


A spokesperson for EFSA said it welcomes the decision. He told FeedNavigator today:

“This case and the Court’s ruling is important because it provides orientation for EFSA and others charged with interpreting EU legislation on public access to documents, particularly in relation to the Aarhus Regulation.”

Commenting on the court's findings, Corporate Europe Observatory’s agribusiness researcher Martin Pigeon said:

"This ruling is very important as it confirms the Court's case law on the overriding public interest in public access to all toxicity study data for pesticides."

He said it provides EFSA with a straightforward legal guideline for dealing with future disclosure requests.

"The timing of this ruling is also very meaningful, as the European Parliament will soon adopt in plenary the revised General Food Law, making data disclosure by EFSA systematic and mandatory. And while the EU Commission and EFSA will then decide on implementing rules specifying when commercial interest and intellectual property protection may still justify data confidentiality, today's court ruling makes it clear that such arguments can no longer be used against data disclosure as far as pesticides are concerned."


EFSA concluded in November 2015 that glyphosate, one of the most widely used herbicides in the EU, is “unlikely to pose a carcinogenic hazard to humans."

The four Green MEPs that filed the case in May 2017 included Heidi Hautala, Benedek Javor, Michele Rivasi and Bart Staes; they went to court in order to gain access to the original studies used by EFSA in that controversial assessment.

Their request concerned the parts relating to ‘material, experimental conditions and methods’ and to ‘results and discussion’ of the unpublished studies on the carcinogenicity of glyphosate. In their request, the applicants pointed out that, in March 2015, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) had concluded that glyphosate was potentially carcinogenic whereas EFSA's November 2015 opinion drew down a very different conclusion.

In an animal feed related opinion on glyphosate risk, published in May 2018, EFSA said it found no reason for concern over glyphosate residues in feed in terms of cattle, sheep, pig, poultry and horse health.

Residues from the controversial herbicide in feed are not expected to have a major, if any impact, on livestock or equine animals’ health, said the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) in that risk assessment​.

The EU risk assessor said it evaluated all available information on the presence of glyphosate in feed, including imported feed to reach its conclusion.

The Authority had been mandated by the Commission to look at the potential impact on animal health of glyphosate residues in feed.  

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1 comment

Indépendant Replication is essential

Posted by Elaine Attwood,

All studies should be published so that other scientists can replicate them. Only then will consumers be reassured as to the transparency and accuracy of the results.

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