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Daily News Blog

11
Sep

Germany Moves to Phase-Out Glyphosate/Roundup; EPA Unmoved

(Beyond Pesticides, September 11, 2019) Germany is the latest entity to take action on getting glyphosate-based pesticides out of the marketplace. Chancellor Angela Merkel has announced that, beginning in 2020, the country will phase out herbicides that contain glyphosate by the end of 2023. The phase-out will occur through a series of scheduled reductions in amounts allowed for use, with a goal of a 75% reduction over the next four years. The announcement comes after “nation-wide protests and demands from [Merkel’s] junior coalition partner, the Social Democrats, for more decisive action on environmental issues.” This action stands in telling contrast to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) repeated failures to protect people, ecosystems, and our food supply, from this toxic compound.

The German government also plans to oppose any European Union (EU) request for renewal of licensing of these herbicides, according to the environment ministry. Bayer AG, maker of glyphosate-based herbicides and owner of original manufacturer Monsanto, has pushed back, saying that the government is “getting ahead of itself” by banning glyphosate-based herbicides prior to any decision by the relevant EU authority, and that EU laws disallow unilateral decisions by member states. (Pesticide licensing decisions lie with EU governance in Brussels, the de facto capital of the EU, rather than with EU member countries.)

Agriculture Minister Julia Kloeckner emphasized that, although glyphosate products are currently legal under EU law (until December of 2022), German farming policies will continue to become “greener.” Germany’s Environment Minister, Svenja Schulze, said at a news conference in Berlin, “I don’t expect that there will be a majority anywhere in the EU for glyphosate after 2022.” The government’s move is particularly noteworthy because Monsanto, which developed glyphosate and marketed it as the ubiquitous and infamous Roundup herbicide, was bought in 2018 by Bayer — a German company. This development adds to the uphill slog the company faces in keeping its products viable, given the recent plethora of developments related to the toxic compound.

Monsanto’s patent on glyphosate expired in 2015, so dozens of other chemical companies, including BASF and Dow Agrosciences, now market herbicides based on this active ingredient; they are the most commonly applied herbicides worldwide. Concern about glyphosate-based pesticides swelled when the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) determined that glyphosate is a probable carcinogen. Beyond Pesticides has covered the relationship of glyphosate (and the adjuvant ingredients in formulations) to cancer, endocrine disruption, reproduction, and renal and hepatic damage, not to mention its toxicity to fish and other aquatic organisms.

Contrary to scientific consensus and to the IARC’s conclusions, EPA has decided that glyphosate formulations are “not likely to be carcinogenic to humans,” as it posited in a decision announced in May 2019. EPA took this step even in the face of an April 2019 report by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) — an agency of U.S. Department of Health and Human Services — which evidenced findings that support glyphosate’s carcinogenicity.

Among the cascade of developments since IARC’s designation have been the more than 13,000 lawsuits brought against Monsanto/Bayer. The premier one of those, which has helped catalyze a veritable tsunami of others, was the suit in which California groundskeeper Dewayne Johnson prevailed in his contention that his occupational exposure to Monsanto’s Roundup had caused him to develop non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (NHL). The plaintiff was awarded $39 million in compensatory damages and $250 million in punitive damages by a jury in California State Superior Court in San Francisco County; Judge Suzanne Bolanos later upheld the verdict but reduced the punitive amount to $39 million, for a total award of $78 million. The first glyphosate case in federal court was decided in March 2019 in favor of plaintiff Edwin Hardeman, who also developed NHL after decades of mixing and using Roundup on their extensive home property; the jury in that case awarded $5 million in compensatory damages and $75 million in punitive damages. As noted, there is a very long queue of other plaintiffs bringing suit related to the harms of glyphosate exposure.

EPA’s intransigence on the glyphosate issue is underscored with every effort by other entities to recognize glyphosate’s health and environmental threats, and to rein in use of the toxic chemical. In addition to Germany’s announcement, some of those recent efforts include: a 2016 call by scientists to reconsider permitting of the compound; a 2019 University of California ban on use of glyphosate on its 10 campuses; a major pesticide supplier’s discontinuing sales of glyphosate products because its insurer, in the face of that tsunami of litigation, refused to insure the company if it continued sales; a bill passed in July 2019 by Austria’s lower house of parliament banning all glyphosate uses; bans instituted in August 2019 by 20 French mayors in their municipalities in defiance of federal regulations; and a French court’s January 2019 yanking of the license for a Roundup product. Just days ago, 16 stakeholders — health, environmental, farmer, and farmworker communities — called for EPA to remove glyphosate from the marketplace. These stakeholderss cite the critical mass of high-profile lawsuits, environmental impacts, increasing reports of weed resistance, and growing public concern over the health effects of glyphosate in their comments on EPA’s interim reregistration review decision for the chemical.

Advocates say that EPA has a dismal record on glyphosate-based formulations — and on many other pesticides. This record has been more extreme during the tenure of the Trump administration, which has since 2017 worked to loosen and/or revoke regulation it perceives as “unfriendly” to industry. But EPA has for many more years been inadequate to the task of protecting the public and the environment from the compound’s impacts. Beyond the current administration’s industry-friendly machinations, Beyond Pesticides has noted and explained EPA’s failures as, fundamentally, basic inadequacies of the risk assessment paradigm EPA uses for regulating toxic chemicals.

That paradigm arises from the overarching pesticide law, the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA). One area of inadequacy lies in its distinctions between “active” ingredients (such as glyphosate) and “inert” ingredients, the latter of which get inadequate review compared to that for “active” ingredients. Inert ingredients are not required to be listed on product labels because they are considered “proprietary” manufacturer information, a concerning lack of transparency for the public. EPA’s assessment strategy is not “holistic,” but instead, employs a chemical-by-chemical approach.

Further, the agency depends in significant part on industry-generated research in its regulatory decisions. It also does not systematically address evidence of epigenetic/multi-generational impacts of, for example, glyphosate exposures. Another failure of the regulatory paradigm, as set out in Beyond Pesticides’ report, Thinking Holistically When Making Land Management Decisions, is the “failure of the current laws and regulatory review to consider complex ecological impacts of pesticides. These effects are not captured in current ecological risk assessments, even though interactions among pesticides and their cumulative impacts are devastating to ecological balance and health.”

The gaining momentum against use of glyphosate-based herbicides is good news. The ultimate solution is, of course, ceasing to use toxic chemicals for most pest issues in agriculture, land management, and building contexts. Organic, mechanical, and biologic approaches are available for most of the problems industry wants to fix chemically. Please stay engaged and informed on these issues with Beyond Pesticides’ many resources, including its Daily News Blog, its journal, Pesticides and You, its Programs and Resources web pages, and its newest initiative: Organic Eye — a Beyond Pesticides watchdog agency that will focus on defending the time-honored philosophy and legal definition of organic farming and food production.

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.

Source: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2019-09-04/germany-cabinet-aims-to-reduce-glyphosate-usage-in-coming-years

 

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