Farmers in France have reacted strongly to Environment Minister Nicolas Hulot’s intention to block the reauthorisation of glyphosate, pointing out the negative effects the ban would have on conservation farming, as well as increased overhead costs.
The French politician reiterated Paris’ opposition to the re-authorisation of Monsanto’s weed killer Roundup. A vote on the issue is expected on 4 October.
“France will vote against a re-authorisation of glyphosate for ten years given the uncertainties that persist with regard to its dangerousness,” AFP quoted a source in the ecology and sustainable development ministry as saying.
In May, the Commission decided to restart discussions with member states about a possible ten-year renewal of glyphosate’s licence.
According to the executive, the glyphosate discussion is not a routine case and a decision should be based on available science.
Health Commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitis recently told EURACTIV.com, “I must be humble, I am not a scientific expert, but it seems to me that political opinions cannot outweigh broadly agreed scientific opinions.”
“As a doctor, I rely on science. Therefore, I will continue to base my decisions on science and on the rule of law,” the EU health chief emphasised.
End of agroecology
Arnaud Rousseau, President of the French Federation of Oil Producers (FOP) wrote on Twitter that “banning glyphosate would mean “the end of agroecology”.
“All farmers who practice conservation agriculture and have stopped tillage to capture carbon in soils, according to the principles set up at COP21, will have to stop this type of agriculture if they cannot use glyphosate punctually to clean the fields just prior to seeding, when the frost did not remove the plant cover planted just after the harvest,” he told AFP.
Conservation agriculture (CA) is based on three principles: no-till (or minimal soil disturbance), organic soil cover, and diversified crop sequence. In this way, this type of agriculture enables farmers to increase productivity, adapt to climate change and reverse environmental degradation.
Speaking at the AGRI Committee of the European Parliament in July, Gottlieb Basch, President of the European Conservation Agriculture Federation (ECAF), told MEPs, “Glyphosate is an important substance for agriculture, not just for Conservation Agriculture but for conventional agriculture too”.
Conservation farmers claim that glyphosate is a crucial element in the development of conservation systems. The active ingredients used in the pre-seeding weed control are diverse, but normally glyphosate alone or in combination with other herbicides, such as hormonal ones, are a common choice among farmers.
Glyphosate controls many weeds and leaves no residue in the soil that could prevent or delay seeding, they say.
Jean-Paul Bordes, Director of Research and Development at Arvalis Agri Institute pointed out that a return to the use of tillage would have negative effects on the soil and its fertility.
He said ending the use of glyphosate would mark the end of all the farms situated in intermediate zones with less fertile soils, whose economic equilibrium is based on the reduction of labour costs per hectare.
From an economic perspective, Philippe Pinta, the president of the Association of Wheat Producers (AGPB), emphasised that a ban on glyphosate would add € 900 million per year extra costs to the French cereal farmer.
He also hinted that Minister Hulot’s standpoint on glyphosate should not be seen as the French government’s official position.
The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) said in November 2015 that glyphosate was unlikely to cause cancer in humans and proposed higher limits on the amount of residue of the weedkiller deemed safe for humans to consume.
The EFSA advises EU policymakers and its conclusion were expected to pave the way for the 28-member European Union to renew approval for glyphosate, which was brought into use by Monsanto in the 1970s and is used in its top selling product Roundup as well as in many other herbicides around the world.
Environmental groups have been calling for a ban after the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), part of the World Health Organisation, said in March 2015 that glyphosate was “probably carcinogenic to humans”.
A campaign group said that 1.4 million people had signed a petition calling on the European Union to suspend glyphosate approval pending further assessment.
The EFSA said it had carried out a thorough analysis and taken account of the IARC’s findings. Greenpeace, for its part, called the EFSA’s report “a whitewash”.