The future of agriculture weighs in the balance, as the European Parliament debates banning the sale of one of the most powerful and potentially harmful herbicides in the market.
Found in everything from fresh salads to breakfast cereals and considered to be cancer-causing, glyphosate has been one of the most widely used weedkillers since 1974.
Just days before the EU was to vote to renew its license, calls from environmental activists and MEP’s rose to ban the chemical on claims that it “fails to ensure a high level of protection of both human and animal health and the environment (and) fails to apply the precautionary principle."
“Parliament opposes the European Commission’s proposal to renew the controversial herbicide license for 10 years. Instead, MEPs say the EU should draw up plans to phase out the substance, starting with a complete ban on household use and a ban in use for farming when biological alternatives,” a press release from EU said.
The MEPs are voting on banning the chemical and completely eradicating the substance by 2020, one day before the company’s lease renewal would have been under consideration.
Recent statistics show that traces of the herbicide were found in 45 percent of Europe’s topsoil, 60 percent of grain products in the United Kingdom and in the urine of three-quarters of Germans participating in the research project.
Opponents of glyphosate, used in Monsanto's best-selling herbicide Roundup, point to a 2015 study by the World Health Organization's, WHO, International Agency for Research on Cancer that concluded it was "probably carcinogenic."
This contradicted findings by the European Food Safety Authority and the European Chemicals Agency, which both said glyphosate was unlikely to cause cancer in humans, in line with a 2016 review carried out by other WHO experts and the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization.
The Guardian reported that controversy surrounds glyphosate’s continued use, with France strongly against the lease renewal and Spain in favor. As Germany is preoccupied in coalition talks, it’s believed they will abstain from these debates, while the U.K. has steadily become less involved since Brexit.
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Some critics warn of serious consequences as a result of the ban. Farming associations have threatened lawsuits, while others are determined to reject the ban as environmental degradation, sickness and crop rotting are almost certain without glyphosate to control plant growth.
“You would see increased costs for farming and decreased productivity, increased greenhouse gas emissions, loss of topsoil, loss of moisture,” Monsanto’s vice president, Scott Partridge, said.
“There would be some significant reaction by farmers through Europe. They would be very upset that a very effective and safe tool had been taken out of their hands.”
The herbicide is used primarily on maize, cotton, soy bean, oilseed and sugar beet crops, all of which have been genetically engineered to resist the weedkiller.
However, environmentalists say the chemical is not as selective with other types of foliage found in nature and can potentially kill large trees and destroy both natural and semi-natural habitats and biodiversity in general.