Farm Ireland

Wednesday 21 February 2018

First shots fired in a renewed battle over agri chemicals

Brussels beat...

Mairead McGuinness
Mairead McGuinness

Mairead McGuinness

The European agro-chemical industry is worth billions of euro annually

Glyphosate, the main ingredient in Round-Up, is a key tool for the control of weeds and the protection of crop yield. Farmers claim that there is no alternative product or system delivering the same results. Groups opposed to its use in farming and horticulture argue otherwise and want to see it banned or at the very least curtailed.

The European Commission regularly re-assesses active ingredients in plant protection products. With the glyphosate license due to run out this summer, the Commission concluded that it was safe to allow its continued use for another 15 years.

However, in a non-binding resolution, the Commission's decision was rejected by the European Parliament's Environment Committee and later by a vote of the entire Parliament arising from concerns about the possible health implications.

The European Food Safety Authority's conclusion was that glyphosate was not likely to be carcinogenic. However, in a separate development, the WHO (World Health Organisation), through the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classified glyphosate as probably carcinogenic to humans.

These two apparently contradictory scientific opinions, coupled with a strong lobby from NGOs, led to questions about whether or not glyphosate should be banned.

Not surprisingly Monsanto, the US based company that developed the product in the 1970s and its use on GM crops, was part of the public debate.

The WHO places red meat, inhaling emissions from high-temperature frying and inhaling smoke from an indoor fire in the same category as glyphosate. The IARC (WHO) puts the combined contraceptive pill, alcoholic beverages and processed meats in an even higher category of concern.

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The apparent difference between the WTO and EFSA comes down to the difference between something being a potential hazard and a real risk, which is linked to usage and exposure.

Based on the EFSA conclusions, the European Commission proposed an extension of 15 years for glyphosate.

Two weeks ago the Parliament gave the green light to a renewal of the license but with caveats over usage.

MEPs proposed a renewal for seven rather than 15 years with questions raised about the use of the chemical in public places and by domestic users.

Industry argues that the concern of MEPs is based on scare-mongering and promotion of misinformation and unsubstantiated claims and that this is hampering an informed debate on glyphosate.

There is a long list of chemicals coming up for renewal that are likely to attract the same attention, including bentazone, cyhalop butyl, diquat, famaxodene and triabendazole.

It is interesting that plant protection specialists regard glyphosate as one of the safer agro-chemicals, yet its renewal has been anything but straightforward.

Mairead McGuinness MEP and Vice-President of the European Parliament

Indo Farming