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Euroviews. The science is clear — the EU should not reauthorise glyphosate

A crop-dusting plane sprays a field of corn, July 2011
A crop-dusting plane sprays a field of corn, July 2011 Copyright AP Photo/Euronews
Copyright AP Photo/Euronews
By Natacha Cingotti
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The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent in any way the editorial position of Euronews.

The European Commission’s reckless willingness to approve glyphosate for another decade of use in the EU should be reconsidered as soon as possible for the sake of the protection of future generations, Natacha Cingotti writes.

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Last week, the European Commission announced it intended to reauthorise glyphosate for another 10 years, despite compounding health concerns and repeated failures to garner a qualified majority support among member states. 

This October, a multi-institutional international toxicology study found that even low doses of glyphosate-based herbicides are associated with leukaemia in early life among other serious health outcomes. 

The European Commission’s reckless willingness to approve glyphosate for another decade of use in the EU should be reconsidered as soon as possible for the sake of the protection of future generations.

Links to serious health conditions abundant

The science on glyphosate is clear; over the past years, new evidence has piled up regarding its potential harms. 

It has been linked to cancer, kidney disease, the development of Parkinson’s disease, impacts on developmental and reproductive systems, and most recently effects on the microbiome. 

Further, some of these negative effects can even be passed on to future generations. Preliminary findings of the Global Glyphosate Study by world-renowned Ramazzini Institute and others now indicate that even low doses of herbicides containing glyphosate, previously assumed safe by regulators, can cause leukaemia in young rats following prenatal and early life exposure. 

While pesticide companies keep asserting that glyphosate is safe, this flood of legal cases and judgements in favour of the victims tells another story.
Members of Greenpeace wear mock hazardous material suits and spray water while demonstrating in front of EU headquarters in Brussels, November 2012
Members of Greenpeace wear mock hazardous material suits and spray water while demonstrating in front of EU headquarters in Brussels, November 2012Virginia Mayo/AP

Already in 2015, the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer classified glyphosate as a probable carcinogen. Many peer-reviewed studies have since then pointed towards the same conclusion.

Parallel to the evolution of the science, court cases filed against Bayer (previously Monsanto) for health damages, including cancer, caused by their popular glyphosate-based herbicide "Roundup" have also multiplied. 

The latest three US verdicts this month saw Bayer be ordered to pay hundreds of millions in damages, adding to the already expensive legal tab of the company. 

While pesticide companies keep asserting that glyphosate is safe, this flood of legal cases and judgements in favour of the victims tells another story.

Discord around the evidence

Despite all of this the European Chemical Agency’s Committee for Risk Assessment (ECHA RAC) concluded that classifying glyphosate as a carcinogen is not justified. 

In response, the Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL) showcased in a report how the studies provided by companies themselves clearly show the occurrence of statistically significant tumours. 

The repeated failure to reach majority support for this proposal among member states in a tentative vote in October and again in November indicates that independent scientists and civil society groups are not the only ones to be confused.
An activists holds a sign 'ugh.. glyphosate #NOBAYSANTO" while protesting against the Bayer Monsanto merger in Bonn, April 2017
An activists holds a sign 'ugh.. glyphosate #NOBAYSANTO" while protesting against the Bayer Monsanto merger in Bonn, April 2017AP Photo/Martin Meissner

In July, in the risk assessment process crucial to determining the substance's fate in the EU market, the European Food Safety Agency (EFSA) also concluded that glyphosate does not pose "unacceptable" risks to health, even though it acknowledges that the industry dossier has important data gaps.

In this context, it is therefore baffling that the European Commission has opted for a 10-year reauthorisation of the substance, with minimal restrictions and hard-to-enforce mitigation measures. 

The repeated failure to reach majority support for this proposal among member states in a tentative vote in October and again in November indicates that independent scientists and civil society groups are not the only ones to be confused. 

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A reckless decision

If one thing is clear from this process, it is that for a substance supposedly not posing "unacceptable risks to human health", the renewal should no longer be straightforward. 

Maybe because it has become politically impossible to ignore strong scientific evidence about how the substance puts us all under unnecessary risk.

The European Commission’s determination to proceed with the reauthorisation in spite of scientific evidence and lack of member states’ support is a reckless decision. 

This would allow continued citizen exposure to a known harmful chemical for another decade leading to health consequences across generations. 

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The tide can still be turned right now by dropping this proposal and committing to phasing out glyphosate and transitioning towards more sustainable agriculture practices instead. 

Natacha Cingotti is Health and Chemicals Programme Lead at Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL).

At Euronews, we believe all views matter. Contact us at view@euronews.com to send pitches or submissions and be part of the conversation.

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