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Wednesday, December 6, 2023

New EU approval announced: another ten years of glyphosate

The EU Commission announces that it will continue to approve the controversial pesticide. Because the member states have not vetoed it – not even Germany.

A person holds a Flat RoundUp in his hand and sprays on plants

Is this carcinogenic? Weed killer with the active ingredient glyphosate Photo: Benoit Tessier/Reuters

BERLIN taz | After the EU states renounced a veto, the European Commission wants the controversial pesticide glyphosate allow further. Based on safety assessments, “the Commission will now extend the authorization of glyphosate for a period of 10 years,” the authority announced on Thursday.

In doing so, she responded to a vote in the appeals committee of the member states, in which, as in the lower court a month ago, there was no sufficient majority for or against the Commission’s proposal. Germany also contributed to this, abstaining, according to diplomats, as did France, the Netherlands and four other countries. Only Austria, Luxembourg and Croatia refused new approval. The current permit expires on December 15th.

Glyphosate is the world’s best-selling pesticide ingredient. The World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer classified it as “probably carcinogenic” in 2015 – mammals fed glyphosate had developed tumors. In the USA, several courts then sentenced the chemical company Bayer to pay high compensation to plaintiffs who attributed their cancer to the weed killer.

Bayer, on the other hand, cites various regulatory authorities that classify glyphosate as safe. The poison kills almost all non-genetically modified plants and thus also food for birds and insects. That’s why environmentalists see it as a threat to biodiversity.

Ban in Germany is virtually impossible

Because of such concerns, the Commission’s draft for the new authorization prohibits “siccation” using glyphosate, which kills the cultivated plants in order to make the fruits easier to harvest. The risk of residues in the harvested crop is particularly high. Germany and other EU states have therefore already severely restricted siccation. On the other hand, the Commission wants to prescribe nozzles that apply glyphosate more precisely so that less of the pesticide drifts into the environment.

In addition, edges of fields that are at least 5 to 10 meters wide should not be sprayed. However, member states should be able to waive this rule if there are no “unacceptable risks”. A spokeswoman for the Federal Ministry of Agriculture told the taz in October that “this is likely to happen in Germany no innovations would come.” In other words: the situation would not improve under the proposed conditions.

Agriculture Minister Cem Özdemir (Greens) took a position against glyphosate. The responsible European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has not identified any “critical” environmental problems under EU law. But that was mainly because it lacked data and a methodology agreed within the EU. Efsa criticized the pesticide manufacturers for not providing a systematic literature compilation on the subject. For these reasons, “no clear conclusions” are possible about how the weed killer affects biodiversity.

Despite its concerns, the leading agriculture department did not vote against the new approval in Brussels because its coalition partner FDP is in favor of glyphosate. The party argues that EFSA has not identified any objections. In addition, the pesticide is necessary for agriculture without plows, which can have advantages for the environment. The background is also that Bayer would lose billions without glyphosate and farmers would sometimes have higher production costs.

Farmers’ association welcomes decision

After the EU vote, Özdemir referred to the agreement made in the traffic light coalition agreement to remove glyphosate from the market by the end of 2023. “In this respect, I assume that all three coalition partners feel committed to this and are now implementing it together, so that we can now use our national scope within the framework of what Brussels has set.” However, this is small. Only “in extreme cases” Member states could “theoretically” ban all pesticide products containing the active ingredient on their territory, a high-ranking EU official had said in advance. You would have to have scientifically proven reasons for this “within the framework of the conditions and restrictions that we propose in the approval regulation”.

“The extension of approval at EU level will make the promised exit virtually impossible,” said the Nature Conservation Association. “The reports of many independent scientists were not included in the Efsa report on the assessment of glyphosate. This makes the approval process non-transparent and loses its credibility.”

The EU farmers’ association Copa-Cogeca, on the other hand, like Bayer, welcomed the Commission’s announcement. “There is currently no equivalent alternative to this herbicide,” the organization said. However, environmentalists and organic farmers advise, for example, to prevent weeds by increasing the variety of plants grown and to combat them using mechanical means.

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