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Farm machinery spraying glyphosate to oilseed rape. Photo: Chafer Machinery via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)
Farm machinery spraying glyphosate to oilseed rape. Photo: Chafer Machinery via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)
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European Union - stop glyphosate reauthorisation!

Molly Scott Cato MEP

3rd March 2016

Next week, EU governments will vote on whether to re-authorise the weedkiller glyphosate, judged by IARC to be a probable human carcinogen, writes Molly Scott Cato. The disgraceful shenanigans of the Commission and the European Food Safety Agency to date provide a clear example of the EU and member states conspiring with corporations, against citizens.

First EFSA announces that glyphosate is not dangerous, and then the Commission authorises a type of maize which is genetically modified to withstand high doses of glyphosate-based herbicide. The EU is looking like a paradise for multinationals.

Glyphosate is now the most used synthetic chemical of all time and is widely suspected of interfering with human hormonal systems.

A recent study by European and American researchers estimated the cost of the health impacts of such endocrine disruptors to be €157bn.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), an agency of the WHO, also concluded last year that glyphosate is "probably carcinogenic" to humans.

Yet in spite of this clear evidence of harm, Commission President Juncker and his team persist in their refusal to regulate.

Here is a clear example of the Commission ignoring loud and repeated public concern about widely used chemicals and their impact on human health. So it falls to MEPs in the European Parliament to fight this battle on behalf of Europe's citizens.

Herbicide of contention

To understand the situation, we must go back to March 2015, when IARC was evaluating glyphosate toxicity. Their decision that the chemical probably causes cancer followed a detailed evaluation undertaken in full transparency by experts independent of the chemical industry, and was based entirely on published, peer-reviewed scientific studies.

Glyphosate faced re-evaluation at EU level because its authorisation was due to expire in June 2016. The European Food Safety Agency (EFSA) took charge of the dossier. Contrary to the opinion of IARC, EFSA's evaluation, published on 12th November 2015, found that glyphosate is "probably not carcinogenic".

How experts reached this opinion cannot be explained because the process is totally opaque. Some of the experts who had advised EFSA in the evaluation of glyphosate did not even complete their declaration of conflict of interest.

Secondly, EFSA founded its opinion on questionably 'scientific' studies. Some had not been published at all, or not in their entirety, or had not been subject to peer-review - as is customary in the scientific domain to ensure the quality of a study.

Similarly, glyphosate is always used with additives to produce a herbicide, as is the case for Roundup. Yet EFSA restricted itself to evaluating pure glyphosate without taking into account its effects when combined with other substances.

It seems that the in-use conditions of a herbicide are of no interest to EFSA. This is in stark contrast to the view of 96 internationally renowned scientists, who last November, wrote to the Commissioner for Health, Vytenis Andriukaitis.

Knowing that the Commission bases its decision for renewal or refusal on the Agency's own opinion, the 96 scientists demanded in no uncertain terms that Andriukaitis reconsider the EFSA opinion, as it does not fulfil standard scientific criteria.

GMOs and glyphosate: two sides of the same coin

Sadly, this is not the only example of Team Juncker doing a favour for Monsanto and other agrochemical multinationals who rely on agritech for their profits. Last December, the majority of members of the Environment and Public Health committee of the European Parliament voted against the authorisation for the import of a GM maize for food and feed in Europe.

Four days later, the European Commission approved this authorisation, without even waiting for the outcome of the plenary vote. As it turns out, this maize is Monsanto's NK603 x T25, which is tolerant to - you've guessed it - glyphosate.

And so the deal is done. First EFSA announces that glyphosate is not dangerous, and then the Commission authorises a type of maize which is genetically modified to withstand high doses of glyphosate-based herbicide. The EU looks like a paradise for multinationals. With such dubious process it is no surprise that Euroscepticism is on the rise.

As a political representative it is incumbent on me to share my concerns about the weakness of democratic processes surrounding the authorisation of pesticides and GM crops. However, I should be equally clear that this is not a basis to argue for the UK to leave the European Union: the UK government is at least as keen to support corporate agribusiness as the EU Commission.

In fact, the UK has been leading the charge for de-regulation - for which read the reduction of standards that protect public health - and for undermining the de facto moratorium on growing GM crops in the EU.

As Greens we believe that the EU is the place where we should battle corporate power most effectively - and that's something we can only do while the UK is a member of the EU.

Our priority is a transition to sustainable and healthy agriculture that can produce the safe food we need without damaging our environment. We therefore call upon the Commission to begin a transparent evaluation procedure for glyphosate and we repeat our demand for a total ban on the authorisation of new GMOs.



Molly Scott Cato is Green MEP for the South West of England, elected in May 2014. She sits on the Economics and Monetary Affairs Committee and Agriculture and Rural Development Committee in the European Parliament. She is Green Party speaker on economy and finance and has published widely, particularly on issues related to green economics. Molly is formerly Professor of Strategy and Sustainability at the University of Roehampton.

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