(Beyond Pesticides, November 14, 2017) The European Commission has again been unable to come to a consensus over renewing approval for Monsanto’s popular herbicide, glyphosate. Member states voted last week, but failed to approve, continued use even after months of deliberation over the controversial herbicide. Glyphosate (Roundup) is also up for review in the U.S., but many expect the herbicide to be reregistered by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), despite health concerns.
The proposal to renew the European Union (EU) license for glyphosate for another five years failed to a reach a qualified majority, meaning a decision has again been postponed, according to reports. The current license is due to expire on December 15, 2017, but there is an 18-month grace period. Fourteen countries voted in favor of the renewal, nine against, while five, including Germany, abstained from voting. According to reports, a qualified majority requires that 55 percent of EU countries vote in favor and that the proposal is supported by countries representing at least 65 percent of the total EU population. France, which voted against the proposal, said it would only support a renewal for three-year phase-out. The proposal could now be referred to an appeals committee, or alternatively, the Commission could draw up a new proposal for another vote.
Monsanto has been embroiled in controversy after its attempts to unduly influence and undermine scientific research that has found its product to be harmful to humans. In 2015 the World Health Organization’s (WHO) International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classified glyphosate as a “probable carcinogen.” That conflicted with findings from the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and the European Chemicals Agency, which said the substance was not likely to cause cancer in humans. But, it was later revealed that EFSA copied dozens of pages from a Monsanto study in reaching its conclusion that glyphosate is “unlikely to pose a carcinogenic hazard to humans.” EFSA’s recommendation is supposed to provide an independent analysis for EU member states. In a similar case documenting Monsanto’s influence, the New York Times reported on Monsanto’s internal emails and email traffic between the company and U.S. federal regulators that suggested that Monsanto had ghostwritten research on glyphosate (Roundup), which was later attributed to academics. Just last month, the European Parliament banned Monsanto lobbyists from committee meetings and digital resources, as well as no longer permitting Monsanto lobbyists to meet with any Member of the European Parliament. This was an attempt to limit Monsanto’s influence on the EU review process amid mounting public pressure against the relicensing of glyphosate.
Last month, the European Parliament voted to ban glyphosate by 2022 amid concerns that it causes cancer. The vote was not binding, but it increased the pressure on the European Commission, which had previously recommended renewing the herbicide’s license for 10 years. It then reduced its recommendation to five years, which failed to reach a majority last week. In 2016, 48 members of the EU Parliament from 13 different countries had their urine tested for traces of the herbicide and every test turned up positive. The average concentration was 17 times higher than the European drinking water norm.
Earlier this year, California declared glyphosate a carcinogen under the state’s Proposition 65 law, following the IARC classification of glyphosate. Glyphosate has historically been touted as a “low toxicity” chemical and “safer” than other chemicals by EPA and industry and is widely used in food production and on lawns, gardens, parks, and children’s playing fields. IARC’s classification of glyphosate as a “probable” carcinogen indicates that glyphosate is anything but safe. According to IARC, being a “probable carcinogen” means that the chemical is probably carcinogenic to humans based on sufficient evidence of carcinogenicity in experimental animals. In its report, the agency did note that glyphosate has been linked DNA and chromosomal damage in human cells. Further, epidemiologic studies have found that exposure to glyphosate is significantly associated with an increased risk of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
The best way to avoid glyphosate and other harmful pesticides is to support organic practices in landscapes and agriculture and purchase organic food. Beyond Pesticides has long advocated for organic management practices as a means to foster biodiversity, and research shows that organic land management does a better job of protecting biodiversity than its chemical-intensive counterparts. Instead of the prophylactic use of pesticides and crops bioengineered with insecticides, responsible organic practices focus on fostering habitat for pest predators and ecological balance and only resort to the judicious use of least-toxic pesticides when other cultural, structural, mechanical, and biological controls have been attempted and proven ineffective.
As evidence of the hazardous effects of glyphosate continues to mount, environmental groups, including Beyond Pesticides, are urging localities to ban or restrict the use of the chemical and other toxic synthetic pesticides.
All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.