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

  • As part of efforts to tackle global heating, grants will be available for planting and three years’ care

    More than 130,000 trees are to be planted in English towns and cities over the next two years as part of the nation’s battle against global heating.

    The environment secretary, Michael Gove, will announce on Sunday that grants for the plantings will be made available through the Urban Tree Challenge Fund.

    Continue reading...

  • Experts agree that global heating of 4C by 2100 is a real possibility. The effects of such a rise will be extreme and require a drastic shift in the way we live

    Drowned cities; stagnant seas; intolerable heatwaves; entire nations uninhabitable… and more than 11 billion humans. A four-degree-warmer world is the stuff of nightmares and yet that’s where we’re heading in just decades.

    While governments mull various carbon targets aimed at keeping human-induced global heating within safe levels – including new ambitions to reach net-zero emissions by 2050 – it’s worth looking ahead pragmatically at what happens if we fail. After all, many scientists think it’s highly unlikely that we will stay below 2C (above pre-industrial levels) by the end of the century, let alone 1.5C. Most countries are not making anywhere near enough progress to meet these internationally agreed targets.

    Continue reading...

  • The climate crisis lawyer talks about the Extinction Rebellion protests and why the government must take action on the environment

    Farhana Yamin is an environmental lawyer who, over the past three decades, has worked on a number of international treaties, including the Paris climate agreement. She has represented small island nations threatened by the effects of global heating and recently took part in the Extinction Rebellion protests.

    How did you become politically interested in the environment?
    When I was about 20, 22 and qualifying as a lawyer. It was just before the Earth summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. I was already working for the small island states in the climate negotiations. And the climate change convention was adopted and the biodiversity convention was adopted. So all of these agreements were supposed to have sorted out the problem. It was a time when I was very optimistic about what law could do.

    Continue reading...

  • As sea levels rise, Fairbourne, sandwiched between mountains and the beach, is being returned to the waves. But where will its residents go?

    It is an almost perfect spring day. The sky is milky blue and there is barely a ripple on the mirror-flat expanse of Barmouth Bay. The sunshine is warm and the mountains are beginning to turn from slate-grey to luscious green. Bev Wilkins, a former businesswoman, launches a ball down the beach for her beloved German shepherd rescue dog, Lottie. In a blur of legs and black fur, the dog dashes into the frothy surf. “It is a lovely spot when the sun comes out,” she says, welcoming her dripping pet back with an affectionate rub. “Horrible when it rains.”

    Related:Tell us if your home is at risk from flooding or coastal erosion

    Continue reading...

  • Project hopes to identify best habitats for extraordinary creature more endangered than giant panda – and shed light on mysterious breeding location

    “That one is definitely over five years old, it could be eight to 10 years old,” shouts Dr Peter Walker, as a writhing 50cm long eel is scooped out of the River Tone near Taunton in Somerset. “This year or next I would expect this one to be on its merry way.”

    The European eel makes an extraordinary 6,000km (3,728-mile) journey to the Sargasso Sea in the north Atlantic to spawn, from where its larvae travel all the way back. Now scientists hope a new project may shed light on this still mysterious part of eels’ lifecycle, which could provide crucial help in protecting the species.

    Continue reading...

  • Governments of the world need to act. It’s time to speak to our planet with kindness before it’s too late

    All the raspy-voice myna birds have come here, to this old swamp, where the ghost swans now dance the yellow dust song cycles of drought. Around and around the dry swamp they go with their webbed feet stomping up the earth in a cloud of dust, and all the bits and pieces of the past unravelled from parched soil. The Swan Book, by Alexis Wright.

    A dense haze of smoke crawled over Melbourne and embraced us for a day in its lonely pilgrimage, inviting us to contemplate its mourning rite, its long prayer.

    Continue reading...

  • Campaigners say pharmacy chain should uphold promise to reduce plastic packaging

    The pharmacy chain Boots has come under fire for using plastic bags, rather than paper ones, to package some of its prescriptions.

    Environmental campaigners and customers criticised the firm, which signed up to a high-profile scheme to cut plastic packaging last year.

    Continue reading...

  • Exclusive:Comprehensive analysis finds harm from head to toe, including dementia, heart and lung disease, fertility problems and reduced intelligence

    Continue reading...

  • From now, house style guide recommends terms such as ‘climate crisis’ and ‘global heating’

    The Guardian has updated its style guide to introduce terms that more accurately describe the environmental crises facing the world.

    Instead of “climate change” the preferred terms are “climate emergency, crisis or breakdown” and “global heating” is favoured over “global warming”, although the original terms are not banned.

    Continue reading...

  • Debris on Cocos (Keeling) Islands was mostly bottles, cutlery, bags and straws, but also included 977,000 shoes, study says

    On the beaches of the tiny Cocos (Keeling) Islands, population 600, marine scientists found 977,000 shoes and 373,000 toothbrushes.

    Related:‘Monstrous’: Indigenous rangers’ struggle against the plastic ruining Arnhem Land beaches

    Continue reading...

Eco Health News feeds

Eco Nature News feeds