After many years of uncertainty, many are looking forward to December 15, the moment when the use of glyphosate in agriculture will be completely banned (unless declared otherwise in Europe). While some hope that its use will be banned, others, on the other hand, hope that its permission will be maintained. Finally, and after a great political conflict between the Member States of the European Union (without a qualified majority either for or against), the Commission was forced to make a decision: glyphosate is allowed for the next 10 years.
“The Commission, based on the comprehensive assessment carried out by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) together with the Member States, will now continue to renew the approval (of glyphosate) for 10 years , under certain conditions and restrictions,” the Commission itself indicated on November 16, after the recount of the vote on the 13th.
In any case, and without knowing these “specific conditions and restrictions”, the use of this substance will continue to be allowed on European soil.
“The difference in votes between the countries of the EU is not based only on the belief in scientific studies or estimates. The main doubts of the member states are whether each country can make a transition to a different agricultures, without great economic loss and without great anger on the part of the farmers,” as Lucía Argüelles, Researcher of the Urban Transformation and Global Change Laboratory (TURBA Lab) of the Open University of Catalonia, about result of the vote and decision of the Commission. , in statements to the SMC Spain.
What is glyphosate
Glyphosate is widely used in agriculture. It is a chemical used in herbicides, products designed to prevent and control weeds. For several decades, it has been used mainly to eliminate competition from crops, although it has also been used for other purposes, such as eliminating weeds that have problems on railroad tracks or roads. It is the most used herbicide in the whole world and in Europe, because there is no patent, it is very cheap.
Glyphosate is usually applied before planting to control weeds, which improves plant growth. Because of this, glyphosate is effective in eliminating or reducing the need for plowing machines, which in turn reduces soil erosion and prevents carbon emissions captured by underground plants. So far, all the advantages.
The main argument used by detractors of glyphosate is that it is a potentially carcinogenic substance. Where does this statement come from? In 2015, the World Health Organization (WHO) specialized agency on cancer (IARC) published an evaluation of five important herbicides and pesticides, including glyphosate. In this evaluation, based on a large review of studies published in the journal The Lancet Oncology, glyphosate is classified as “probably carcinogenic to humans.”
After this consideration several reports came in the opposite direction. The European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) conducted a risk assessment of glyphosate in 2022 and concluded that it did not meet the scientific criteria to be classified as a carcinogen, mutagen or reproductive toxicant. And recently, in July, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) itself also distanced itself from the IARC classification, due to the lack of human evidence. However, all the checks carried out by this or other entities show that the information available does not allow firm conclusions to be drawn.
Other possible harm
Although the possible relationship to cancer is the main weapon used by detractors of glyphosate, it is not the only argument against this chemical. According to more than 150 environmental organizations through the manifesto The Plague of Pesticides, “pesticides are associated with a greater risk of suffering from diabetes, reproductive and respiratory diseases, neurological damage and cancer.”
And beyond its effects on humans, glyphosate contaminates soil and water, affecting aquatic and terrestrial organisms. We know, for example, that this herbicide can significantly reduce the ability of bees to maintain the temperature of their hive, which directly affects their ability to reproduce.
“The change in the approval of glyphosate has the potential to have significant and negative consequences for public health and the environment. This decision may expose the population and the ecosystem to unnecessary risks and highlights the importance to make decisions based on scientific evidence to guarantee the long-term protection of human health and biodiversity,” said Pablo Gago, senior scientist at the Institute of Environmental Diagnosis and Water Studies of CSIC (IDAEA-CSIC), in statements to SMC Spain.