After much public debate, the European Union (EU) recently determined that it will renew glyphosate for another five years —a shorter renewal than it could have been, but not ideal when what we really wanted was a rejection of the license renewal altogether.
For over two years, this vote was delayed as member states debated whether or not glyphosate is a carcinogen. The World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) designated glyphosate a probable carcinogen in March 2015, a decision that IARC has continued to defend despite attacks from industry interests on multiple fronts (including from members of the U.S. House of Representatives).
Five more years
With glyphosate's EU license set to expire on December 15, this vote comes in the nick of time for Monsanto, which had asked for a 15-year license renewal. There was only a narrow margin for a win in the vote, as the EU rules required more than a simple majority (for the record, 18 member states were in favor of renewal, nine against, one abstaining). One silver lining is that this debate will resurface fairly soon and there's reason to believe the landscape could look very different next time around.
Another definite silver lining — French President Emmanuel Macron and Italian Agriculture Minister Maurizio Martina said that their countries would ban glyphosate in the next three years, with France investigating alternatives to the herbicide.
PAN International persists
Our PAN Europe partners have been working to reduce glyphosate use for several years. Prior to the EU vote for renewal, a November 20 meeting was convened by the European Parliament, where the #StopGlyphosate coalition presented their demands for a glyphosate ban. PAN Europe environmental toxicologist Angeliki Lysimachou said:
It's time for the Commision to listen to its citizens, ban glyphosate and set clear EU mandatory targets for pesticide use reduction and adoption of alternative methods in pest management. This is fundamental for the protection of humans, the environment and future of food production from the harmful effects of these chemicals.”
In November, PAN Europe and Générations Futures released a critique of the EU's risk assessment report on glyphosate where they described studies indicating negative effects of glyphosate being dismissed without valid scientific arguments.
An October PAN Europe report, "Alternatives to herbicide use in weed management," discusses glyphosate in a case study. Sustainable alternatives to agrichemical-intensive farming include a number of smaller strategies that fall under the umbrella of integrated weed management — the report uses the analogy "many little hammers."
A big "hammer" like glyphosate created the situtation we face here in the U.S., where weeds have developed resistance to glyphosate, producing "superweeds" that have overtaken fields. With the so-called solution of glyphosate, farmers are still stuck on the pesticide treadmill, using increasingly complicated and harmful pesticide cocktails to combat glyphosate-resistant superweeds. The end result of more than two decades of glyphosate reliance has been another big hammer — the extremely drift-prone herbicide dicamba. And this summer, we saw unprecedented damage from dicamba drift on an estimated 3.6 million acres of non-GE soybeans.
Many farmers around the world and in the U.S. are using a different set of tools, including agroecological solutions listed on our "Stories from the Field" pages. Time for more little hammers.
Photo: Mike Mozart | Flick