The European Parliament’s Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety (ENVI) voted in favor of imposing a full ban on glyphosate by December of 2020 and immediate restrictions on the chemical.
According to ENVI, the ban should start with household use of glyphosate-based herbicides like Monsanto’s Roundup weed killer, then move toward an agricultural ban after alternative herbicides are demonstrated as safe and effective.
In a strongly worded resolution, ENVI condemned the EU Commission for its failure to protect public health and the environment and objected to the Commission’s proposal to extend the license for glyphosate for 10 years.
In lieu of the Committee’s vote, members of European Parliament (MEPs) will hold a plenary vote on the resolution to relicense glyphosate next week, ahead of a separate decision by the European Commission to relicense glyphosate. The current license for glyphosate is set to expire in December.
France and Austria have publicly stated that they will vote against the reauthorization of glyphosate. Italy and Sweden are also considering ‘no’ votes.
“The Commission must listen to the voices of over a million EU citizens who signed the European Citizen’s Initiative asking glyphosate to be banned from the market because of serious health and biodiversity concerns,” said MEP Kateřina Konečná (Czech Republic). “By submitting its proposal to Parliament only days before it is due to make a final decision on the authorization, the Commission wants to avoid democratic scrutiny in the hopes it can get its proposal approved without noise.”
MEP Anja Hazekamp (Netherlands) seconded Konečná’s voice, calling the proposed 10-year renewal for glyphosate “completely unacceptable.”
“The risk analysis and evaluations done by European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and EU member states are based on flawed information manipulated by industry,” Hazekamp said after the Committee vote.
“Comprehensive evidence of this has been made public in the Monsanto Papers. To expose citizens, animals, and the environment to Monsanto’s poison for 10 more years is an irresponsible act of the European Commission. It ignores independent scientists, the revelations in the Monsanto Papers, and the Stop Glyphosate European Citizens’ Initiative, which has gathered more than one million signatures. Glyphosate should be taken off the market and its phase-out should begin today,” Hazekamp concluded.
EU Glyphosate Renewal Mired in Controversy
Much of the controversy surrounding glyphosate began in 2015 when the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), the cancer research arm of the World Health Organization, issued a report on glyphosate. The IARC report concluded that glyphosate is a probable human carcinogen and the cancer most associated with glyphosate exposure is non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
The IARC conclusion was the catalyst for a wave of lawsuits against Monsanto in the United States. Filed by farmers, agricultural workers, gardeners, landscapers, government workers, and a host of others, the lawsuits claim that exposure to Roundup caused individuals to develop non-Hodgkin lymphoma. The lawsuits also accuse Monsanto of burying the health risks associated with Roundup as worldwide sales of the herbicide skyrocketed.
“Monsanto Papers” Released Before EU Glyphosate Ban Vote
While the Roundup litigation is still in the early stages, attorneys for the plaintiffs have released a series of damaging internal Monsanto emails, text messages, and other company memoranda known as ‘The Monsanto Papers.’ Plaintiffs’ attorneys say these documents, obtained during discovery, detail an alarming story of ghostwriting, scientific manipulation, collusion with regulatory agencies, and previously undisclosed information about how the human body absorbs glyphosate.
The Monsanto Papers were discussed at length last week at an EU Parliament hearing called ‘The Monsanto Papers and Glyphosate.’ One of the topics discussed was the differing conclusions between the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and IARC in their respective glyphosate reviews.
Unlike IARC, the EFSA review found that there was not enough evidence to prove that glyphosate causes cancer. However, the EFSA review came under fire in September when the Guardian issued a report saying the agency copied and pasted analyses in its review directly from a Monsanto study. Jose Tarazona, head of EFSA’s pesticide unit, refuted the report during last week’s hearing, saying anyone leveling the copy/paste accusation did not have a proper understanding of EFSA’s process.
Indeed, EFSA’s process was the subject of scrutiny at the hearing. Dr. Christopher Portier, who delivered a presentation on the glyphosate animal bioassays, provided some background on EFSA’s glyphosate review:
“EFSA’s process is defined as a peer review…when you do a peer review, you are assuming that the person that gives you the document has performed due diligence on that document. They have looked at everything and taken the time and effort to make sure that what they are giving you is the highest quality you can possibly get. Then you judge whether you think they have explained their points well enough.”
“The problem, in this case, is that is not how this was done. Nobody went back and verified the findings in the original studies. By failing to verify those findings, it cascaded through the entire review process such that you don’t have an answer which is based on the best science. My problem with the process is not the way it’s laid out; it is the very beginning of the process.”
Another presenter at the hearing, Martin Pigeon of Corporate Europe Observatory, noted that EFSA does not have the resources or the legal framework to achieve its mission. According to Mr. Pigeon, the agency does not have access to product samples, does not commission research, and has a limited budget to pay experts. The last factor has led to a high conflict of interest rate among experts, Pigeon said in his presentation.
EU regulatory process will likely be debated further in the coming months, as MEPs and other presenters pointed out during the hearing that some of the shortcomings noted in the regulatory assessment of glyphosate exist with other chemicals and other industries.