Weedkiller vote postponed

Call for more research into 'probably carcinogenic' glyphosate

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Campaigners have welcomed the postponement of a vote to re-license a chemical that has been linked to cancer.

The European Commission has delayed the decision on whether to grant glyphosate – a key ingredient in weedkillers such as Monsanto’s multibillion-pound brand Roundup – a new license when its current one lapses in June.

The move came after several countries called for further research into the controversial substance.
Some studies – including one by the World Health Organisation – have linked the chemical to an increased incidence of cancer in humans but the academic community is divided on the issue.

Sweden, France, Italy and the Netherlands were among the countries either calling for more information or opposing the licensing outright.

People power

The move has been heralded as a victory for people power by the campaign group Global Justice Now – at least in the short term. Almost 1.5 million people have signed a petition urging the EU not to re-license the chemical.

Policy and campaigns officer Aisha Dodwell said: “Agribusiness lobbyists in Brussels will have been working overtime to push the decision through, but thousands of people across Europe are rightly concerned that a chemical that has been scientifically shown to be ‘probably carcinogenic’ should be so prevalent in our parks, our gardens and even our basic foodstuffs.”

The commission’s decision to delay rather than lose the key vote plunges glyphosate into a legal limbo until the Standing Committee on Plants, Animals, Food and Feed votes again on the new 15-year license – most likely in May.

Campaigners were further relieved last week when the Environment Committee of the European Parliament also voted for the license to be refused.

Local bans and restrictions on its use exist in large parts of Europe. As well as cancer, glyphosate has been linked with a host of other health problems, including birth defects, kidney failure, coeliac disease, colitis and autism.

Dodwell said: “We need to ensure that the UK politicians are looking out for the health and wellbeing of UK consumers and food producers rather than just pandering to the profit margins of big agribusiness companies like Monsanto, who make millions through the sales of their weedkiller Roundup, which contains glyphosate.”

Glyphosate is used everywhere from gardens and parks to school playgrounds and is found in our food, clothes and cosmetic products. Traces can be found in a third of the loaves of bread consumed in the UK and it appears in all of Germany’s top 14 beers.Glyphosate makes Monsanto an estimated £3.5 billion a year.

Secret data

The 2015 WHO study concluded that glyphosate was “probably carcinogenic to humans”. The EU’s own European Food Standard Agency then carried out an alternative study, which rejected these findings and claimed the chemical was safe. This research is controversial however, since the data has remained secret and unavailable for scrutiny, while the researchers’ names were also anonymous – meaning conflicts of interests were not made clear. Previous EFSA research is known to have relied on industry-sponsored studies.

This lack of transparency or accountability has led to a fierce debate among scientists, with 96 prominent names penning an open letter calling for EFSA’s findings to be disregarded.

The Swedish environment minister Åsa Romson said: “We won’t take risks with glyphosate and we don’t think that the analysis done so far is good enough. We propose that no decision is taken until further analysis has been done and the EFSA scientists have been more transparent about their considerations.

“We are raising concerns because our citizens are raising concerns. They want to feel safe and secure with food and production in our society.”

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