Slow Food Europe: Member States Shouldn’t Be Prevented from Banning Glyphosate

Slow Food calls on Member States of the European Union to follow the examples of Austria and Germany, which took firm decisions to ban glyphosate. It has been two years since the European Commission renewed the authorization for glyphosate valid until December 2022. The decision to renew the 5-year authorization was made despite the European Parliament 2017’s vote for a full ban of this chemical classified as “probably carcinogenic to humans” by the cancer research agency of the World Health Organization (WHO). The growing wave of citizens’ concern over the use of glyphosate and other plant protection products constitutes an ideal moment to refuse the renewal of the glyphosate authorization in 2022 and push the EU to completely ban this chemical. 

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The Frontrunners in the Fight Against Glyphosate 

This July, Austria’s Lower House of Parliament passed a bill to ban all uses of the weedkiller glyphosate starting in January 2020. Unless the Upper House chooses to object to the glyphosate ban, the bill should be signed into law by the country’s president. This would make Austria the first EU country to completely stop the use of glyphosate. However,  EU regulations oblige Member States to notify the Commission of all draft technical regulations before they can be adopted into national law under the Single Market Transparency Directive. Industrial farming groups and companies including Bayer-Monsanto are gearing up to sway the EU Commission to strike down Austria’s ban, arguing that it “contravenes EU procedures.” The Commission is expected to either approve or disapprove Austria’s decision by November 29. Slow Food has been among the organizations supporting Austria’s decision and calling on the Commission not to succumb to pressure from lobbyists. 

In September, Germany became the second country to decide to ban all uses of glyphosate. However, it may not face the same confrontation course with European law as Austria, since the ban will come into force at the end of 2023, after the expiration of the current EU’s glyphosate authorization. In the meantime, the German government agreed on banning glyphosate as of next year in city parks and private gardens, and on restricting its use in species-rich areas. 

“We see a growing number of local and national authorities committed to putting an end to our dependancy on glyphosate, without waiting for the Commission to finally be ready to recognize the concerns of citizens and scientific institutions over the potentially dangerous effects of glyphosate on citizens and especially farmers. In 2017 the Commission promised that Member States could ban glyphosate individually without restrictions. Now it is the Commission’s turn to respect the Austrian Parliament’s choice and uphold the ban. This would create a precedent and open the door to other EU countries,” says Ursula Hudson, president of Slow Food Germany.  

 In France, whilst President Macron’s promised to outlaw glyphosate use by 2021, he has since backed down on these statements evoking the need for a transition period for farmers to phase out their use of the herbicide. Despite the complete ban not being inscribed in French law, it is no longer permitted to use glyphosate in public spaces nor by individuals. Moreover, in late August this year, 20 French mayors bypassed the government and decided to ban glyphosate from their municipalities. Denmark, Belgium, Luxembourg, Portugal, the Czech Republic, Italy, the Netherlands, Malta, and Spain have also introduced some restrictions on glyphosate use on their territory. 

The Voice of the Parliament and Citizens Ignored

The pressure on the Commission to recognize the right of a Member State to ban or restrict the usage of glyphosate is high, otherwise, it would risk the perception of impeding on the democratic process. Slow Food regrets that the decision-making process unilaterally lies in the hands of the Commission when it comes to technical but first and foremost political issues on which Member States are not able to agree. Through the comitology procedure, the role of the European Parliament is reduced to a symbolic one. 

The case of glyphosate has clearly demonstrated the risks of comitology. Two years ago, the Parliament backed a full ban on glyphosate by December 2022 and immediate restrictions on the use of the substance. Back then, the Members of the Parliament expressed their concerns about the EU risk assessment process as the WHO agency and EU Food Safety and Chemicals agencies came to different conclusions regarding the safety of glyphosate. The non-binding resolution was adopted by 355 votes to 204, with 111 abstentions, however, it was all the Parliament could do. 

“In the European democratic process, it is vital to have all institutions and citizens be heard. Such an important decision that concerns the health of people and our planet cannot be made without reaching a broad consensus, and that includes scientific institutions. It is absurd that two agencies reach totally different conclusions. The Commission and Member States based their decision on an assessment, which later turned out was plagiarised from Monsanto reports. Incidences like these jeopardize the credibility of EU institutions and drive citizens away from Europe,” argues Hudson.

Back in 2017, the Commission not only disregarded the voice of the Parliament, it also ignored the European Citizens’ Initiative “Stop Glyphosate,” which was supported by more than 1 million Europeans including Slow Food. In response to the successful ECI, the Commission said that it had no scientific or legal grounds for a ban of glyphosate. Slow Food is fundamentally convinced that the Commission has to take into account the will expressed by citizens, the Parliament, and now the national bodies of Austria. 

Behind the Lobby Groups, the Bayer-Monsanto Giant 

Glyphosate was developed in the 1970s by Monsanto, recently merged with Bayer, under the brand Roundup. It is now off-patent and marketed worldwide by dozens of other chemical groups, even though Roundup remains the most popular and widely accessible to both farmers and individuals. Major concerns about the safety of glyphosate emerged when the cancer research agency of the WHO declared that glyphosate, despite having been classified as a low-toxicity chemical in the past, is “probably carcinogenic to humans”. Bayer-Monsanto faces thousands of lawsuits related to the weedkiller in the United States.

Slow Food believes that the Europe-wide ban of glyphosate is a necessary and urgently needed step to take. The continued use of this chemical not only poses potential risks to citizens and primarily farmers’ health, but it is also toxic for biodiversity and the whole ecosystem. Meanwhile, there is increasing evidence of sustainable agroecological farming approaches such as those practiced by Slow Food farmers, relying only on natural inputs and which therefore constitute excellent alternatives to conventional glyphosate-dependent agriculture. 

Indre Anskaityte, Slow Food Europe

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