Four months to #StopGlyphosate
23 February 2017
Earlier this month, Corporate Europe Observatory joined a broad pan-European coalition in launching a European Citizens Initiative (ECI) to ban glyphosate and improve the weak EU pesticides approval procedure. We hope this builds enough public pressure on the European Commission and national governments, including the UK government, that they take into account our concerns when they decide whether or not to relicence glyphosate in June (and under what conditions).
The broad-spectrum plant-killer glyphosate (trademarks: Roundup, Weedol...) has been in the news over the past two years, in particular because of an unusual public conflict that erupted between the EU's food safety agency (EFSA) and the World Health Organisation's cancer research department (IARC) on whether the substance causes cancer in humans, and at which dose. Given that glyphosate is the most widely-used weed-killer, this is a serious question for farm workers and gardeners, but also for consumers and everyone who lives in cities where it is still used it to kill unwanted plants in streets, school playgrounds and public parks.
This conflict has been so threatening to the pesticides industry that it has now launched a full-scale attack on the IARC, asking the Trump administration to cut all funding it provides to the international public health agency. IARC’s publications are often used by courts as a reference in lawsuits against manufacturers of toxic chemicals.
Need for scientific scrutiny
But, beyond threatening industry interests, one of the reasons why this conflict between the EU and the World Health Organisation’s public health agencies was so bitter is that, as with all pesticides, the EU's safety evaluation of glyphosate was mainly based on unpublished industry studies, as opposed to being a proper scientific process using published evidence, enabling scientific scrutiny.
This kind of secrecy has unfortunately been the norm for most products put on the market. Because it is so difficult to audit the data behind market authorisations, toxic products are sold and used much longer than they should be.
However, the glyphosate controversy is an opportunity to highlight this problem and make sure public decisions on the authorisation of toxic products are more scientific: Pesticides should only be assessed on the basis of published evidence.
Curing the EU’s addiction to pesticides
Beyond the controversy on glyphosate’s direct toxicity to humans, the evidence that the widespread use of glyphosate is ecologically devastating is overwhelming. Glyphosate is directly toxic to soils, the basis of any future food production, and destroying all plants on a piece of land basically annihilates local biodiversity. From that perspective, the massive use of all wide-spectrum weed-killers needs to stop.
A glyphosate ban would be an important step towards reducing European agriculture’s addiction to biocides, especially now that we are experiencing the worst biodiversity collapse ever recorded and urgently need to invest in plant cover and the health of soil if we are to do anything meaningful about water scarcity and climate change.
Better farming practices
From Corporate Europe Observatory’s perspective, the campaign to #StopGlyphosate should be seen within a larger movement towards ecological and restorative farming practices. This includes introducing support measures for the many farmers who rely on destructive – but cheap – weed management measures like spraying broad-spectrum plant-killers (or, even worse, ploughing). Other broad-spectrum weed-killers that could used as substitutes (dicamba, glufosinate, 2,4D, diquat…) are typically more toxic, and sometimes more expensive than glyphosate.
Farmers need support if we want them to be able to make a decent living out of their work without poisoning themselves and to move towards farming practices that do not compromise public health, the environment or our capacity to produce food in the future.
This could be in the form of direct financial support, as long as the farm subsidies actually support farm workers' livelihoods and ecological farming, and not just the act of owning land as is the case now. But, perhaps what we need are better international trade measures: there is no point in trying to produce food in decent social and ecological conditions if countries that don’t respect these standard are allowed to dump their products on our markets.
Share it with your friends and networks #StopGlyphosate