Farmers hope EU Commission will block Austria’s glyphosate ban

Contacted by EURACTIV.com, a European Commission spokesperson declined to comment on draft laws of member states that have not been communicated to the EU executive. [EPA/ARMANDO BABANI]

This article is part of our special report The environment in the new CAP.

Austrian farmers hope that the European Commission will not approve a ban on weedkiller glyphosate that the government in Vienna proposed in March.

“There is big hope within the farming community in Austria that the European Commission will say the total ban of glyphosate is unlawful,” the pan-European farmer and cooperatives union Copa-Cogeca told EURACTIV in an emailed statement.

On 2 March, Austria became the first EU member state to propose a total ban on glyphosate, the world’s most commonly used and controversial weedkiller. Its lower chamber of parliament passed the bill on 2 July. It still needs the approval of the upper chamber before the country’s president, Alexander Van der Bellen, signs it into law.

Following intense debates, the EU decided to allow the use of glyphosate until 2022, and, consequently, the Austrian government will need to get the EU Commission’s green light for its proposed ban.

Contacted by EURACTIV, a European Commission spokesperson declined to comment on the Austrian law.

The EU official referred to the Single Market Transparency Directive, which provides that member states are obliged to notify the Commission all draft technical regulations before they are adopted into national law.

“This is a preventive, technical mechanism providing the Commission and the member states with the opportunity to react,” the EU spokesperson said.

The Friends of the Earth Europe have warned about the environmental impact of glyphosate, saying it might contaminate soils in and around treated areas as well as biodiversity.

“It is our responsibility to ban this poison from our environment,” Pamela Rendi-Wagner, who leads the Austrian Social Democrats, said.

An assessment by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) concluded in 2015 that the herbicide solution was “probably carcinogenic to humans”.

On the other hand, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has approved the chemical, saying it is “unlikely to pose a carcinogenic risk to humans from exposure through the diet”. The same opinion was shared by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) as well as the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA).

What is the alternative?

Copa-Cogeca said a big problem for farmers was that they need glyphosate for measures such as greening and direct sowing in order to avoid erosion (there are in addition problems with strong rains which sponges the soil in cities), humus degradation and to eliminate problem-weeds.

“Due to all of these big problems farmers ask what the alternative is and what the solution for measures against climate change will be,” Copa said.

The EU farmers association added that the issue was that such answer will come the earliest after the election in September and the big question is which government will be elected and how they will proceed.

Copa said a solution could be to reduce the private use of glyphosate, as the Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP, EPP) has requested, or before the harvest season.

Copa added that an important study conducted by the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences (BOKU) in Vienna suggests two more examples of how to reduce glyphosate in agriculture: specifically for grassland, and in wine and fruit production.

“This could be a legal way to reduce glyphosate until 2022,” concluded Copa.

[Edited by Benjamin Fox]

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