Glyphosate and the EU 2015 - 2016

Published in Poisons Beware

Glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup and many other herbicides, was discussed in the EU Parliament on December 1st 2015.

Glyphosate herbicide at work. Photo Vivian Grisogono Glyphosate herbicide at work. Photo Vivian Grisogono

The timing of the meeting was interesting. It clashed with the global summit starting in Paris on Monday November 30th, which captured the media headlines and deflected interest from the glyphosate debate. Yet dealing with glyphosate properly is a matter of immediate urgency in the public interest.

Glyphosate-based herbicides are used around the world in gardens, parks, roadways and commercial agriculture. Common versions used in Croatia are Cidokor and Ouragan. The EU Committee for Environment, Public Health and Food Safety - happily better known by its abbreviation ENVI - will take part in an Exchange of Views (EoV) about glyphosate with the EU Commission, the WHO (World Health Organisation) International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) and the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).

The subject of discussion was whether or not glyphosate had been shown to be a potential cause of cancer in humans. WHO IARC issued a report on March 20th 2015 stating that glyphosate is “probably carcinogenic to humans”, while EFSA's report, published on November 12th 2015, concluded the opposite, asserting that glyphosate is “unlikely to pose a carcinogenic hazard to humans and the evidence does not support classification with regard to its carcinogenic potential according to Regulation (EC) No 1272/2008”. 

Much was at stake. The discussion was aimed at helping the Commission when it came to making its decision on “whether or not to keep glyphosate on the EU list of approved active substances”. Glyphosate is big business. Originally patented by American agrochemical giant Monsanto and first marketed in 1974, the patent was allowed to lapse in 2000, when Monsanto had established its Roundup-ready genetically modified seeds and crops in the international market, following their introduction in 1996. Other companies were then able to produce glyphosate-based herbicides, which are sold in unimaginable quantities worldwide. After publishing articles about the herbicide on its website, our registered charity Eco Hvar received apparently serious offers of partnerships from glyphosate suppliers as far apart as Uganda and China.

Following the publication of the WHO report, many countries imposed restrictions on the sale of glyphosate products to the public. Bermuda went further and suspended all imports of glyphosate and glyphosate-based herbicides.

Is glyphosate proven safe?

No, despite Monsanto's continued assurances. How can a poison be considered safe? It can't be tested on humans, that would provoke outrage. The hundreds of animals which have been force-fed glyphosate in laboratories are no proof of what happens when glyphosate is mixed up for application in the environment. Glyphosate received approval from the American Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) mainly on the basis of research studies which were sponsored by the producers. Most were never published in peer-reviewed journals. The few published articles submitted in support dealt mainly with protocols for dealing with the hapless animals subjected to the poison to see how much would do them harm. Glyphosate was reregistered by the EPA in 1993. Supporting documentation for the approval included some 228 unpublished papers submitted by Monsanto.

Is glyphosate linked to cancers?

 Yes, this showed up in some of the animal testing, and was confirmed in the WHO report.

Why is research linking glyphosate to cancer risks not respected?

The results are respected by those who are guided by true scientific principles. But credible science has been undermined by the profit motive. There have been cover-ups. There is determined lobbying. All those who have vested interests in selling glyphosate products have mountedvirulent campaigns to neutralize any reports suggesting glyphosate is not safe. The most notorious case involved a study by Gilles-Eric Séralini and his team showing several adverse effects of Roundup and genetically modified maize on rats, including tumour formation. Published in 2012, the research paper was retracted by the journal's editor in 2013. The authors stood by their results, and scientists rallied behind the authors. The paper was re-published in 2014.

Is glyphosate generally safe apart from the possible risk of cancers?

No. Glyphosate has been shown to have very many health risks, as well as causing damage to the environment. Glyphosate works by inhibiting the shikimic acid pathway in plants. It was claimed that this pathway did not exist in humans. However, it has been shown that it does exist in the human gut, which is vital to good health. Disturbance of the gut mechanisms is linked to a whole raft of problems and diseases.

Pro-glyphosate reports? barely credible

A review carried out by EU rapporteur state Germany and submitted to the European Food Safety Authority in January 2014 concluded that glyphosate posed no major risks to human health. This raised strong public protest, and there was an even stronger reaction against EFSA's report in November 2015, which was largely based on the 2014 EU report, and obviously produced to counter the WHO IARC's measured stance. The strength of the public disapproval is not surprising, given the wealth of evidence that glyphosate is hazardous.

The Exchange of Views

The EU's Environmental Committee consists of some 139 members, including two from Croatia: Marijana Petir of the Christian Democrats group, and Davor Škrlec of the Greens/European Free Alliance group. Fingers crossed that the committee members don't ever fall for the blandishments or bullying tactics of the pro-glyphosate lobby. Most people, when pressed, define good health as their biggest priority, way ahead of wealth. The health of millions will continue to be in jeopardy if glyphosate's approval for use in the European Union is extended.

The next step

In March 2016, the environmental Committee produced a draft Motion for a non-binding Resolution, in advance of a vote due to take place in an EU Plenary Session on 13th April 2016. When it came to the vote, there were last-minute amendments to the Resolution which significantly altered the nature of the Resolution's proposals. The amended Motion for Resolution was carried by 374 votes to 225, with 102 abstentions. The most controversial alteration was the call to the Commission to renew Glyphosate's approval for a further seven years. Although this was less than the Commission's recommendation of the maximum fifteen years, it caused great disappointment among leading Environment Committee members who felt that this was not in the interests of public health, given the proven risks of Glyphosate use. 

After the vote, Croatian MEP Biljana Borzan, who voted in favour of the Motion for Resolution, expressed the view that the European Commission would probably not dare to ignore the message from the Parliamentarians, even though the Motion was non-binding. However, shortly afterwards the news began to circulate that the Commission was intending to ignore several of the Parliamentary proposals, and to seek a ten-year extension for Glyphosate approval.

With the European Parliament powerless and the Commission all-powerful, serious flaws in the EU's democratic processes became clear during the year following the IARC report. The health of millions of people was left at risk. 

© Vivian Grisogono 2015, updated May 2016 

Media

You are here: Home poisons be aware Glyphosate and the EU 2015 - 2016

Eco Environment News feeds

  • People and Planet’s annual sustainability league table finds patchy progress across sector

    More than half of universities are not on track to meet their emissions targets, according to an analysis.

    The student network People and Planet haspublished its annual sustainability university league, which found that 46% of higher education institutions were on course to meet the target, up from a third in 2019.

    Continue reading...

  • In the face of the impending climate catastrophe, there has been a growing clamour to repopulate the trillions of trees our planet has lost over the centuries. But large-scale tree planting is not helping, and in some cases it's creating more problems for the environment. Josh Toussaint-Strauss discusses how we've been getting tree planting wrong, and what we should be doing instead to safeguard precious ecosystems and reduce greenhouse gases

    Continue reading...

  • Climate change is happening, and businesses know it. So why don’t company reports show it?

    Last week, Shell walked away from 170 million barrels of oil off the coast of Shetland, declaring the “economic case for investment” too weak. As might be expected with such a politically sensitive venture, there has been much speculation about what other factors might have been at play, whether pressure from Nicola Sturgeon or from Whitehall. But let’s try another question: how did Shell ever decide that there was an economic case? After all, the energy giant does not deny that its entire business will have to change. It advertises its “target to become a net zero emissions” company by 2050, publishes a “sustainability report” and partners with environmental organisations around the world. Yet little of this environmental awareness shows up in the hard numbers.

    The company’s latest accounts features this disclaimer: “Shell’s operating plans, outlooks, budgets and pricing assumptions do not reflect our net zero emissions target.” In other words: whatever the oil giant says is not what it thinks.

    Continue reading...

  • As the sea claims more of the west African shoreline, those left homeless by floods are losing hope that the government will act

    Waves have taken the landscape John Afedzie knew so well. “The waters came closer in the last few months, but now they have destroyed parts of schools and homes. The waves have taken the whole of the village. One needs to use a boat to commute now because of the rising sea levels,” he says.

    Afedzie lives in Keta, one of Ghana’s coastal towns, where a month ago high tide brought seawater flooding into 1,027 houses, according to the government, leaving him among about 3,000 people made homeless overnight.

    Continue reading...

  • Wenlock Edge, Shropshire: This fallen giant, a victim of storm winds, is a gift to the soil and the curious walker

    The storm blew the old elm trunk down, a 15ft-high totem with the crumbling faces of the long dead looking westwards from the wood. The tree may have been more than 200 years old when it fell victim to Dutch elm disease in the 1970s, but it still sent out a hedgeful of suckers for the future, and its disintegrating trunk stayed upright until now.

    Once a prominent tree, marking some forgotten boundary, it becomes another anonymous windthrow sinking into the earth. The duff that rotted from its heartwood is rich and peaty. To see if there is anything in it, I dig about with a stick into what would have been the core of the tree and a place that had not seen the light of day for centuries. There is a bone. A rib, from a lamb or fawn, perhaps. I pick it up. It feels well-preserved, and there is something uncanny about the way it appears.

    Continue reading...

  • Outages hit Ireland and parts of UK after severe winds, rain and snow sweep in from Atlantic

    Almost 30,000 homes in Ireland and 500 properties in Scotland have been left without power after Storm Barra swept in from the Atlantic bringing severe winds, rain and snow.

    The latest outages came days after the final homes in Britain were reconnected after Storm Arwen, which caused “catastrophic damage” to electricity networks mainly in north-east Scotland, affecting 135,000 properties.

    Continue reading...

  • Scientists working on the Search For The Lost Fishes project have spotted the freshwater Batman River loach, which has not been seen since 1974

    A freshwater fish that scientists thought was extinct has been found in south-east Turkey, after an absence of nearly 50 years.

    “I’ve been researching this area for 12 years and this fish was always on my wishlist,” said Dr Cüneyt Kaya, associate professor at Recep Tayyip Erdoğan University. “It’s taken a long time. When I saw the distinctive bands on the fish, I felt so happy. It was a perfect moment.”

    Continue reading...

  • Harm included cell death and occurred at levels of plastic eaten by people via their food

    Microplastics cause damage to human cells in the laboratory at the levels known to be eaten by people via their food, a study has found.

    The harm included cell death and allergic reactions and the research is the first to show this happens at levels relevant to human exposure. However, the health impact to the human body is uncertain because it is not known how long microplastics remain in the body before being excreted.

    Continue reading...

  • Farmers and rural business owners call for stricter rules and enforcement

    Fly-tipping incidents in England increased last year, with household waste accounting for by far the biggest proportion of the problem, which has been worsened by the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic.

    From March 2020 to March 2021 in England, 1.13m fly-tipping incidents were dealt with by local authorities, an increase of 16% on the 980,000 reported in the previous year, according to data released by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on Wednesday. Higher numbers of incidents were reached in 2007-09, but the way the data is collated has changed, so direct comparisons with years before 2018 are not possible.

    Continue reading...

  • He became a household name in the 90s, then disappeared from view. But he never stopped protesting. Now the man known as the human mole is busier than ever

    Dan works in forestry. Clare is a school counsellor. Recently, they took their youngest son to a superhero film. Their middle son loves football. They miss their eldest, Rory, who left home a few months ago.

    The Hoopers are much like any other family with three children, or they would be if Dan did not have an unusual superpower. He is the best DIY digger of tunnels in the country. And for a quarter of a century he has burrowed passageways into the paths of new roads, runways and railways that destroy the countryside and add to spiralling carbon emissions and global heating. In this strange underland, Dan has another name: Swampy.

    Continue reading...

Eco Health News feeds

Eco Nature News feeds