The EU’s decision to postpone the decision on the reauthorisation of the weedkiller glyphosate has been highly controversial, but nowhere is opposition to the chemical stronger than in France. EURACTIV France reports.
After delaying its decision on the reauthorisation of glyphosate in March, the Commission has once again postponed judgement, amid heavy lobbying from both sides of the argument. Negotiations in the technical committee, made up of specialists and representatives from the member states , had started again on 18 May.
“This is the second time the Commission has failed to get the backing of EU governments for the re-approval of glyphosate,” Franziska Achterberg from Greenpeace said in a statement. “This is no surprise, since the Commission has continued to ignore the concerns of independent scientists, MEPs and European citizens. It’s time for the Commission to change course.”
As a compromise, the executive had proposed a renewal for nine years instead of the usual fifteen. But In April, MEPs called for this to be reduced to seven years, and only for professional purposes.
For Achterberg, Greenpeace’s director of food policy, this is a mistake. “It is annoying that the only real debate is over the duration of the licence,” she said. She added that it was “irresponsible to ignore the warnings about glyphosate” and to extend its authorisation “without restrictions to protect public health”.
But French Green MEP Michèle Rivasi (Greens/EFA) is more optimistic. “This second delay shows that the member states are receptive to the mobilisation of citizens and ecologists ,and that the re-authorisation of glyphosate is really not a simple exercise because it has not been possible to reach a qualified majority,” she said.
“Allowing our fields, streets and parks to be drenched with this risky weedkiller would be reckless and unnecessary. With clearly not enough political support to continue its use, the time has come to ban glyphosate and get farmers off the chemical treadmill,” said Adrien Bebb, an agriculture campaigner at Friends of the Earth Europe.
Opposition to glyphosate’s renewal has intensified in recent months, due to the impact of the pesticide on the environment and human health, and fuelled by serious doubts over the methods of evaluation used by the EU.
The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) recently ruled that glyphosate was “unlikely” to be carcinogenic to humans, while the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classified it as “probably carcinogenic”. But critics of the EFSA point to the lack of transparency surrounding the agency’s study, whose source documents have not been made public.
Monsanto, whose flagship weedkillers contain glyphosate, rejects these accusations. The company insists that the evaluation was “one of the most rigorous ever” carried out, wit “more than 90,000 pages of data and 353 studies taken into account”.
On top of questions over the chemical’s possible carcinogenic properties, another debate is taking place in France over whether glyphosate should be banned as an endocrine disruptor. Documents from as early as 2011 shown that France has been investigating glyphosate as a possible hormone disruptor.
“The president of the republic stated very clearly at the latest environmental conference that glyphosate would not be authorised in France,” said Marisol Touraine, the French minister for health. “Quite apart from the debates on whether or not glyphosate is a carcinogen, we believe, and our studies show, that it is an endocrine disruptor,” she added.
The European Crop Protection Association (ECPA) strongly contested any evidence that glyphosate is an endocrine disruptor, saying “glyphosate is not an endocrine disruptor – it has been established as such by many authorities around the world, including the French and European food safety authorities”.
Just hours before the European Commission’s latest non-decision was announced, the NGO Générations Futures submitted a complaint for “aggravated fraud” to the Paris public prosecutor’s office.
“We believe that the German agency charged with evaluating glyphosate (the BfR), the EFSA and the manufacturers of the chemical have used various methods to under-estimate the real dangers posed by glyphosate,” the NGO said.
Générations Futures also carried out a poll, which found that 69% of French citizens are opposed to the reauthorisation of glyphosate, with only 23% in favour.
ECPA's (European Crop Protection Association) director of public affairs, Graeme Taylor, said, “The further delay is disappointing, but we wouldn’t expect Member States to rush to a decision on such an important issue. That said 90,000 pages of evidence, 3,300 peer-reviewed studies, EFSA's opinion, the WHO opinion of earlier this week, and a European Parliament resolution - not to mention regulatory authorities around the world - all support re-approval, yet politics is being allowed to undermine what should be a straight forward science-based approval process."