Cornucopia’s Take: Agrichemicals are typically authorized for 15 years at a time in the European Union, but, due to serious concerns about the safety of glyphosate and the allegedly inappropriate involvement of pesticide manufacturers in its scientific review, glyphosate has only been approved for five years. Chemical companies are claiming politics carried the day, while environmentalists bemoan the government’s decision to reauthorize glyphosate at all. Glyphosate, Monsanto’s flagship product, is not allowed in organic agriculture.
Glyphosate, Top-Selling Weed Killer, Wins E.U. Approval for 5 Years
The New York Times
by Danny Hakim
The European Union voted on Monday to extend its authorization for the world’s best-selling herbicide for an abbreviated period of five years, with France and Germany splitting over the move.
President Emmanuel Macron of France said after the decision was announced that he had asked government officials to draw up a plan for banning the herbicide, glyphosate, in his country within three years. He also posted a message on Twitter with the hashtag #MakeOurPlanetGreatAgain. France led the opposition to allowing the use of glyphosate, the main ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup and in weed killers made by other companies.
Germany, which had abstained in a previous round of voting on the issue, appeared to help sway the outcome of the vote. Although Angela Merkel, the chancellor, has been unable to form a coalition government after the country’s recent election, Germany’s caretaker government swung its support in favor of the weed killer.
The decision appeared to be contentious even within the caretaker government. A split between ministers was reported by Der Spiegel, with Germany’s environment minister, Barbara Hendricks, a member of the Social Democrats, expressing opposition to glyphosate and blaming Ms. Merkel’s conservative Christian Democrats for the decision. The two parties are in the process of negotiating over potentially creating a new coalition.
The vote on Monday capped an unusually lengthy and combative European review process that unfolded amid claims and counterclaims about the cancer-causing risks of glyphosate.
The deliberations frustrated parties on all sides. Agrochemical companies criticized the review process as driven more by politics than science after it became clear that the weed killer’s use would not be reauthorized for the 15 years typical for such chemicals, or even for 10 years. Environmental advocates said that the agrochemical industry had tainted scientific reviews in Europe by meddling in them.
On Monday, with the herbicide’s registration set to expire next month, 18 of the union’s member states voted in favor of extending its use for five years, nine voted against the proposal and one abstained. The vote was weighted by population size.
The Glyphosate Task Force, an industry group that includes Monsanto and Syngenta, said in a statement that it was “profoundly disappointed at the outcome of today’s meeting whereby member states categorically ignored scientific advice.” The group added that it believed the decision was “not related to any scientific assessment and mainly influenced by public perception and driven by politics.”
Angeliki Lysimachou, an environmental toxicologist at the advocacy group Pesticide Action Network Europe, also found fault with the vote, but from a different perspective. “This decision reveals once again the sad truth that governments are more keen to protect the highly profitable pesticide industry than the health of their people and the environment,” she said.
The use of glyphosate has soared in the United States over the past couple decades as it was paired with crops that were genetically modified to be resistant to it, allowing farmers to use it to kill weeds after crops emerge from the ground. Although Europe has largely eschewed genetically modified crops, glyphosate has also been the best-selling weed killer there as well.
The herbicide became engulfed in controversy after the International Agency for Research on Cancer, part of the World Health Organization, declared it a probable carcinogen in 2015. That spurred a federal case in the United States over claims that it caused cancer, and prompted California to declare it a carcinogen.
The international agency’s finding has been disputed by many other government bodies, including two in Europe, the European Food Safety Authority and the European Chemicals Agency. The latest major study, published this month by researchers at the National Institutes of Health, “observed no associations between glyphosate use and overall cancer risk.”