London (20.5.16) –
Some weeks ago, under the heading Glyphoshchina (1), we reviewed
the state of play about the claims of some that glyphosate, a most important
herbicide, in use for more than 40 years and an essential factor for the
cultivation of most GM-herbicide tolerant maize and other products, might
be carcinogenic. That seemed odd at the time, grew odder with repeated telling
and since has become adder still in the light of ever more evidence to the
contrary. Moreover, the World Health Organization, whose agency the International
Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) made the original accusation, seems
to have changed their collective mind. Henry Miller at Stanford University
regards IARC as the worst regulator ever (2).
In brief, then:
1. In April Reuters reported on the state of play (3), discussing the argument between IARC and the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). Bernhard Url, the executive director of EFSA. In November 2015, a letter from 96b to a senior EU official urged him to ignore a “flawed” EFSA statement which gave glyphosate a clean bill of health. EFSA defended its finding on glyphosate and hit back. In a speech to the European parliament in December 2015, EFSA executive director Bernhard Url described the letter from 96 scientists as “Facebook science.” He said it was taking an approach where “you have a scientific assessment, you put it on Facebook and you count how many people like it.” Url said that was not how EFSA operated: “For us, this is no way forward. We produce a scientific opinion, we stand for it, but we cannot take into account whether it will be liked or not.”
2. Copa-Cogeca (the united voice of farmers and their cooperatives in the EU) wrote to the EU Commission & MEPs urging them to keep the herbicide active substance glyphosate on EU market since EFSA had given it a green light. They said inter alia: “glyphosate is the most widely used herbicide in the world. Not approving this active substance would consequently benefit non-EU countries that export to the EU, as it would still be part of farmers tool box in these countries (4).
3. There has been a lot of discussion and comment reported from Germany – and it keeps coming. In Bavaria the SPD parliamentary group wants glyphosate to be prohibited as “a precaution”, especially taking a view of the welfare of children because IARC said that it was "probably carcinogenic” (5).
Writing in the Magdeburg Kompakt (6), Reinhard Szibor challenges the panic, pointing out that one would have to drink gallons or even cubic metres of milk or beer to exceed the accepted glyphosate health limits. And, indeed, according to the Süddeutsche Zeitung (7), the German federal government would like to continue allowing the use of glyphosate although, it is said, much of the European citizenry objects: 76% in Italy, 70% in Germany, 60% in France and 56% in both Spain and the UK (8).
Dirk Maxeiner (9) wonders how the “panic campaign” by the Greens and their sympathisers over glyphosate as a carcinogen will survive the change of view of IARC. In his evaluation their interests are not those of the consumer but rather that of using the bogeyman of carcinogenic glyphosate to challenge modern agriculture. They think that so-called “organic” practices provide the answers.“ It is therefore not a sort of de facto or scientifically favoured concept but a creed and therefore it is highly doubtful that the verdict of the WHO will change anything in the anti-glyphosate campaign – like immutable Sharia law, suggests this author, by implication impervious to new thinking and new evidence.|
4. Things are also a bit variable in the UK. The National Farmers’ Union, in line with the Copa-Cogeca letter (4) are asking farmers to lobby MEPs for the urgent re-authorisation of glyphosate, warning that its loss would trigger a fall in UK cereal production. The loss of glyphosate would likely see a decline of production of winter wheat and winter barley by 12% and oilseed rape by 10% whilst a loss of availability in the livestock and dairy sectors would result in an inability to tackle invasive and poisonous species such as ragwort in grassland (10), On the other hand (there is always that other hand), Waitrose, which had been accused of inconsistency and caving in to green activists by banning its shops from selling glyphosate (“RoundUp”) while continuing to use it on its own land has decided now to remove glyphosate-based weedkillers from its shelves (11).
5. And in France where ANSES, the French Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health & Safety, has decided to ban herbicides that combine chemicals glyphosate and tallowamine because of uncertainty over possible health risks (12). Ban first: be on the safe side and ask later.
6. But back at headquarters at the WHO – and in Brussels – there was movement. At first an EU vote in favour of glyphosate was blocked by Italy with The Netherlands asking that voting be put off until outstanding scientific results had been returned (13). But then the WHO decided, along with EFSA, that glyphosate is not carcinogenic (14) although that does not seem to be enough to satisfy “The Greens” and others for whom a ban on glyphosate resonates well in their unending campaigns against the “evils” of GM-crops and everything associated with them.
Now the EU felt happier. The European Parliament voted in favour of re-authorising the use of glyphosate for seven years: 374 MEPs in support, 225 against and 102 abstentions. To keep themselves happy, the MEPs called for a “ban on glyphosate in private and public areas, including spraying in and around public parks, playgrounds and gardens”. They also wanted restrictions on use in agriculture shortly before harvest (15); that might well lower the happiness level of UK farmers.
A late item|
A report in the Stuttgarter Zeitung (16) says that now, six weeks before expiry of the authorization for the use of glyphosate, the EU countries have failed to agree on a common position. It remains undecided as to whether glyphosate use in Europe can continue; the current authorisation is valid until 30 June. If this report is correct, some people are still claiming that glyphosate is a suspected carcinogen even though IRAC have withdrawn their assertion. The Stuttgart paper claims that science is divided on the issue but that appears not to be correct. “Environmentalists” (at least in Germany) are, needless to say, against the use of glyphosate; whether for political or testable scientific reasons is not stated but might be guessed.
A later item
The EU is in a tizz again about glyphosate. It seemed a lttle while ago that they were all set to relicense for another 15 years. But feet have grown colder. Farming Online (17)
reported a statement made by (Segolene Royale, the Fremch environment minister: In accordance with my announcement of 4 March, France remains opposed to the re-approval of glyphosate for the market for 9 years. I have been in contact with my counterparts in other European countries. The ministers for other countries, notably Germany, Italy, Sweden, Austria and Portugal have indicated they would vote against the Commission’s proposal or abstain.
Who knows? Perhaps the Uk will express other ideas after June 23rd. Meanwhile an excellent summary of the glyphosate antics is available on the Scientific Alliance website (18).
1. Glyphoshchina. CropGen (27.2.16) (http://www.cropgen.org/article_637.html)
2. Henry I. Miller (18.5.16). Errors, bias and conflicts of interest make UN agency contender for worst regulator ever. Forbes (http://www.forbes.com/sites/henrymiller/2016/05/18/bias-hidden-agendas-and-conflicts-of-interest-make-un-agency-contender-for-worst-regulator-ever/#67891097609a)
3. Kate Kelland (18.4.16). How the World Health Organization's cancer agency confuses consumers. Reuters (http://www.reuters.com/investigates/special-report/health-who-iarc/#sidebar-weed)
4. Press Release. Copa-Cogeca (5.4.16) (http://www.copa-cogeca.be/Download.ashx?ID=1498853&fmt=pdf)
5. Bayerische Bevölkerung schützen - Glyphosat vorsorglich verbieten! BayernSPD Landtagsfraktion (11.4.16) (http://bayernspd-landtag.de/presse/pressemitteilungen/?id=314253)
6. Reinhard Szibor (1.4.16). Der Skandal hinter dem Glyphosat-Skandal. Magdeburg Kompakt (http://www.magdeburg-kompakt.de/der-skandal-hinter-dem-glyphosat-skandal/)
7. Markus Balser (11.4.16). Bundesregierung will Glyphosat weiter erlauben. Süddeutsche Zeitung (http://www.sueddeutsche.de/wirtschaft/glyphosat-gift-und-gegengift-1.2944156)
8. Arthur Nelsen (11.4.16). Two-thirds of Europeans support ban on glyphosate, says Yougov poll. The Guardian (http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/apr/11/two-thirds-of-europeans-support-ban-on-glyphosate-says-yougov-poll)
9. Dirk Maxeiner (17.5.16). Schwer im kommen: Die grüne Umwelt-Scharia. Achgut.com (http://www.achgut.com/artikel/schwer_im_kommen_die_gruene_umwelt_scharia)
10. Johann Tasker (7.4.16). Farmers must lobby MEPs to keep glyphosate, says NFU. Farmers Weekly (http://www.fwi.co.uk/news/farmers-must-lobby-meps-to-keep-glyphosate-says-nfu.htm)
11. Ben Webster (22.4.16). Waitrose bans sale of weedkiller used on its own land. The Times
12. France to ban some glyphosate herbicides on health concerns. AG Professional (11.4.16) (http://www.agprofessional.com/news/france-ban-some-glyphosate-herbicides-health-concerns)
13. Glyphosate vote postponed after Italy rejects Commission plans. Farming Online (8.3.16) (http://www.farming.co.uk/news/article/12257)
14. Jan Grossarth (16.5.16). WHO hält Glyphosat für nicht krebserregend. Franfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (http://www.faz.net/aktuell/wirtschaft/wirtschaftspolitik/neue-risikoeinschaetzung-who-haelt-glyphosat-fuer-nicht-krebserregend-14235636.html?GEPC=s)
15. David Burrows (13.4.16). MEPs give glyphosate green light – with caveats. Food Navigator (http://www.foodnavigator.com/Policy/MEPs-give-glyphosate-green-light-with-caveats?-Apr-2016&p2=)
16. EU stimmt nicht über Glyphosat-Zulassung ab. Stuttgarter Zeitung.de (19.5.16) (http://www.stuttgarter-zeitung.de/inhalt.unkrautgift-eu-stimmt-nicht-ueber-glyphosat-zulassung-ab.14f5ce0a-415f-4a27-97e3-f066cdca1b95.html)
17. EU glyphosate vote delayed again. Farming Online (19.5.16) (http://www.farming.co.uk/news/article/12503)
18. Glyphosate under pressure. The Scientific Alliance (27.6.16) (http://us2.campaign-archive1.com/?u=f1e3eeb023e7d88eff0dda8a2&id=114985c22f&e=41e2aec3e0 )