Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Will the EU Ban Glyphosate?

Why Europe may ban the most popular weed killer in the world - It’s not just about cancer, is it?

Why Europe may ban the most popular weed killer in the world
Without ​glyphosate, ​fighting weeds ​will get more ​expensive and ​more complicated.​
Chafer ​Machinery/​Wikimedia ​Commons ​

Why Europe ​may ban the ​most popular ​weed killer in ​the world ​

By Erik Stokstad Jun. 17, 2016 , 10:00 AM
It's hard ​to find an ​herbicide like ​glyphosate. ​It’s ​cheap, highly ​effective, and ​is generally ​regarded as one ​of the safest ​and most ​environmentally ​benign ​herbicides ever ​discovered. But ​a report last ​year that ​glyphosate ​could cause ​cancer has ​thrown its ​future into ​jeopardy. Now ​the European ​Union faces a ​30 June ​deadline to ​reapprove its ​use, or ​glyphosate will ​not be allowed ​for sale. ​Here's a ​quick ​explanation of ​the issues. ​

Who uses glyphosate?

Just about ​everyone who ​hates weeds. ​The herbicide ​is widely ​sprayed to ​fight weeds ​along railroad ​tracks, in ​backyards, city ​streets, parks, ​and elsewhere. ​Many kinds of ​agriculture ​rely on ​glyphosate as ​well—and ​farmers are by ​far the biggest ​users. (Sales ​skyrocketed in ​the United ​States and ​Latin America ​after Monsanto ​and other ​companies ​genetically ​modified ​soybeans and ​other crops to ​withstand the ​effects of ​glyphosate. ​That means ​farmers can ​easily kill ​weeds without ​harming their ​crops.) The ​herbicide has ​done more than ​benefit ​farmers' ​profits; ​glyphosate has ​also curbed ​soil erosion by ​facilitating no-​till agriculture,​ the practice ​of spraying ​fields before ​planting ​instead of ​plowing up ​weeds. ​

Why is it controversial?

Environmental ​advocates have ​long worried ​about health ​effects of ​pesticides and ​herbicides, ​including ​glyphosate. The ​U.K. Soil ​Association, ​for example, ​wants a ban on ​pre-harvest ​spraying of ​wheat fields, a ​practice that ​kills green ​heads of wheat ​and allows an ​earlier harvest,​ but also ​leaves residues ​of glyphosate ​in the grain. ​Trace amounts ​have been found ​in bread and ​beer, causing ​anxiety among ​consumers. If ​you're a ​chemical ​company selling ​herbicides in ​Europe, it'​s very bad news ​to mess with ​the perceived ​purity of food. ​

What makes ​glyphosate a ​big issue in ​Europe right ​now?

A bombshell ​report. Like ​other ​regulatory ​agencies, the ​European Food ​Safety ​Authority (EFSA)​ reviews the ​science on ​pesticides and ​herbicides ​every decade or ​so. If the ​evidence still ​suggests that ​the chemical is ​safe enough, ​EFSA allows ​member nations ​to decide ​whether or how ​they want to ​make it ​available. EFSA ​was in the ​process of ​reviewing ​glyphosate, ​when the ​International ​Agency for ​Research on ​Cancer (IARC)​—which ​independently ​gathers health ​data for the ​World Health ​Organization—​ declared glyphosate   a “​probable human ​carcinogen”​  in 2015. Nongovernmental ​organizations ​began a ​vigorous ​campaign to ​prevent the ​reregistration ​of glyphosate. ​Meanwhile, ​chemical ​companies and ​agricultural ​trade groups ​defended its ​safety record, ​pointing out ​that every ​regulatory ​agency had ​given ​glyphosate a ​green light.​  ​

Wait, why ​didn't the ​health reviews ​of glyphosate ​come to the ​same conclusions?​

One reason is ​that they ask ​different ​questions. IARC ​evaluates the ​hazard of a ​chemical—​in this case, ​whether it ​could cause ​cancer. It does ​not ask how ​likely that is ​to happen, or ​in how many ​people. ​Regulatory ​agencies like ​EFSA also ​evaluate the ​risk of harm, ​depending on ​factors such as ​the toxicity ​and the way ​people are ​exposed to a ​chemical. Given ​the trace ​amounts of ​glyphosate that ​people ​typically ​ingest, EPA and ​other ​regulators have ​concluded that ​glyphosate is ​not likely to ​cause cancer or ​other harm. ​IARC noted ​“limited ​evidence” ​of a cancer ​risk to farm ​workers, but ​regulators have ​not been ​convinced that ​glyphosate is a ​danger there ​either. ​

Is that the ​only difference ​between IARC ​and the other ​reviews? ​

There's ​also an issue ​of transparency ​and trust. IARC ​only considers ​peer-reviewed ​scientific ​papers and ​government ​studies. ​Regulatory ​agencies also ​look at ​unpublished and ​confidential ​studies ​conducted by ​and for the ​herbicide ​manufacturers. ​Industry ​critics are ​highly ​skeptical of ​such data. ​

It’s ​not just about ​cancer, is it? ​

No. Many ​Europeans are ​worried about ​ the environmental impact as well. And ​glyphosate has ​come to ​symbolize ​industrial ​agriculture and ​corporate ​control of food ​and farming. ​Europeans who ​value locally-​owned ​agriculture and ​organic farms (​which can’​t use ​glyphosate and ​other synthetic ​agro-chemicals) ​are more likely ​to support a ​ban, regardless ​of whether ​glyphosate ​causes cancer ​or not. ​ But the only ​“​easy” ​legal mechanism ​to clamp down ​on glyphosate ​is because of ​its alleged ​human health ​risk. ​

What happens next?

So far ​there's ​been a deadlock.​ The decision ​was in the ​hands of the ​Standing ​Committee on ​Plants, Animals,​ Food and Feed (​PAFF), which is ​made up of ​representatives ​from the ​European ​Union's 28 ​member states. ​But PAFF has ​failed to reach ​a majority in ​several past ​meetings, even ​as the ​proposals were ​scaled back to ​ever-shorter ​reapproval ​periods for ​glyphosate. ​ On 23 June, ​an appeals ​committee will ​vote. It may ​decide to renew ​the approval ​for a short ​period, say 1 ​year, to keep ​glyphosate ​available while ​the debate ​continues. ​Without a ​qualified ​majority ​deciding to ​renew, the ​approval will ​expire on 30 ​June, and the ​compound will ​have to be ​taken off the ​market in all E.​U. countries. ​

And what would happen then?

Industry’​s Glyphosate ​Task Force ​warns of dire ​consequences, ​such as rising ​food prices, ​falling exports,​ and crop ​yields dropping ​by 5% (for ​oilseed rape) ​to 40% (for ​sugar beets). ​Environmental ​advocates point ​to alternative ​strategies for ​weed control, ​including ​mowing, plowing,​ and rotating ​crops. Other ​herbicides are ​available, but ​they're not ​as effective. ​Without ​glyphosate, ​fighting weeds ​will get more ​expensive and ​more complicated.​   ​


belta said...

Nice article with good farming advise

Psych Nairo said...

you are right. there are more questions than answers. Great article!