Pressure grows to weed out glyphosate

Precautionary principle: strong environmental and health reasons challenge the EU’s heavy reliance on agrochemicals

Scientific evidence is mounting against the world’s most common herbicide, writes James Fitzgerald.

This may be the knock-out round for Roundup, Monsanto’s top selling weed killer, after the European Parliament late last year called for an outright ban on the glyphosate-based herbicide.

MEPs opposed the European Commission’s proposal to renew the product’s licence for another 10 years and, instead, demanded immediate curbs on domestic use and a later ban for farming when alternative pest control measures are in place.

The release of the “Monsanto Papers”, the internal company documents that shed doubt on the credibility of some studies used in the EU evaluation on glyphosate safety, have brought the potential health risks of Roundup to the fore.

“It’s vital that we have one eye firmly on the future when considering the use of agrochemicals in food production. Taking steps to reduce the risks of long-term harm from the way our food is produced is essential if we are to build a resilient and sustainable food system,” Dan Crossley, executive director of the UK’s Food Ethics Council, told

“Where impacts are unknown or contested, we must err on the side of safety – which is why we welcome the EU Parliament’s backing of the ban. We can’t afford to gamble with the future health of people, animals and the planet.”

Miriam Dalli, an MEP from Malta, said: “We asked for a phase-out until the year 2022 and an immediate ban for non-professional use”.

Pavel Poc, of the Czech Republic, one of the MEPs who drafted the resolution calling for a ban, said: “I would like the Commission to look at the adverse effects of the compound which were not assessed until now”.

Monsanto says glyphosate “meets or exceeds all requirements for full renewal under European law and regulation” and claims the renewal procedure has in “many respects been hijacked by populism”.

However, a European citizens’ initiative collected 1.3m signatures demanding that glyphosate be banned “to protect people and the environment from toxic pesticides”.

‘Where impacts are unknown or contested, we must err on the side of safety – which is why we welcome the EU Parliament’s backing of the ban. We can’t afford to gamble with the future health of people, animals and the planet’

Franziska Achterberg, the EU food policy director at Greenpeace, told MEPs: “Glyphosate causes disastrous environmental impacts, it is designed to kill plants indiscriminately. It is the ultimate killer machine, in the words of its producers”.

Monsanto’s representatives declined to appear before MEPs, saying that the hearing was not “an appropriate forum” to address the issue.

Vicki Hurd, sustainable farming campaign co-ordinator at Sustain, says Brexit negotiations should be used to bolster regulations on agrochemicals. “In contrast to those who think Brexit is an opportunity to weaken standards and have a chemical free for all, we should instead build a “Better Food Britain” and maintain a strong regulatory stand,” she told “There are strong environmental and health reasons to reduce our heavy reliance on agrochemicals and all the more so if we are to maintain key EU markets for our produce after we leave the European Union.”

In a separate interview with, Professor Gilles-Éric Séralini, a geneticist at Caen university, outlines his research into glyphosate compounds.

“Unfortunately for public health, the regulations on glyphosate are highly insufficient. The petroleum residues called ‘adjuvants’, which are in fact secret formulants, are always commercialised together with glyphosate in Roundup-like herbicides,” he said. “They are on average 1,000 times more toxic. The ADI [acceptable daily intake] for glyphosate should be divided by 1,000 if the agencies were scientifically honest, and thus the glyphosate and these other formulants should be forbidden to reach progressively these requests.”

See our accompanying Big Read, “GMO scientist sows seeds of doubt”



Headline Photo Credit: Eric Buermeyer/

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