STOP GLYPHOSATE

It is putting our health, our ecosystems and our lands at risk

STOP GLYPHOSATE

Since its first introduction in the US as Roundup in 1974, Glyphosate has become the most commonly and intensively used herbicide in the EU and globally. Yet, glyphosate is harmful to the environment, probably carcinogenic and likely to be neurotoxic to humans. It harms soil health, pollutes water and damages biodiversity. Recent studies have linked glyphosate to the development of Parkinson’s disease.

Wherever you live, glyphosate is present your life even if you are not aware of it. It’s in your food, your body, and the dust in your home.

Despite the request of over a million Europeans to ban glyphosate in 2017, the authorities agreed on its use for another 5 years. Now, in 2023, the EU institutions are preparing to re-approve once again this widely used herbicide.

To stand up to Bayer and other chemical companies that want to renew the license of glyphosate in the European market, the Stop Glyphosate Coalition, comprising NGOs from across the EU, has united to advocate for a complete ban on glyphosate .

Here are our key demands:

NGOs demand a ban on glyphosate as an active substance, precisely this should include the following urgent measures:

  • 1. A complete ban on glyphosate use on agricultural land and a general ban on glyphosate for non-agricultural uses (rails tracks, invasive species, urban areas, water banks etc).
  • 2. Zero tolerance for glyphosate residue in all food products including animal feed.
  • 3. Environmental Quality Standards for glyphosate should be set at a minimum of 0.1 μg/L for all European watercourses, regardless of whether they serve as drinking water sources or not.
  • 4. A ban on the export of glyphosate and glyphosate-based herbicides to third countries.

Questions and Answers

MORE ABOUT Glyphosate

- Is glyphosate safe?

Studies show that glyphosate and glyphosate products can be neurotoxic and may contribute to the development of Parkinson’s disease, can cause kidney disease and disrupt the human and animal microbiome. Maternal exposure to glyphosate has also been linked to spontaneous deliveries with shortened gestational length and abnormal development of reproductive organs in newborns.

In the past, comprehensive studies that combined and analyzed data from various individual studies have also considered the impacts of glyphosate on health.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) of the World Health Organization (WHO) published its seminal Monograph on Glyphosate in 2015. To produce it, 17 international experts examined over 1,000 scientific studies that were publicly available and concluded that glyphosate is "probably carcinogenic in humans" (category 2A) and "carcinogenic" in animals. IARC also concluded that there was "strong" evidence for genotoxicity, both for "pure" glyphosate and for glyphosate formulations.

These conclusions were echoed by a review on "the Health Effects of Pesticides" of the French National Institute for Health and Medical Research (Inserm) in 2021. The Inserm report examined over 5,300 scientific studies, and states that "numerous studies highlight genotoxic damage (DNA breaks or structural modifications)" linked to glyphosate exposure. "This damage, if not repaired without error by the cells, can lead to the appearance of mutations and thus trigger a process of carcinogenesis". Inserm acknowledges the potential harmful effects of glyphosate on certain hormones and the intestinal microbiota. Furthermore, the Inserm does not disregard the possibility that glyphosate may be a potential endocrine disruptor.

Glyphosate has also been linked to chronic toxicity in aquatic species by the Risk Assessment Committee of European Chemicals Agency (ECHA), whereas the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has identified risks to wild non-target terrestrial vertebrates following exposure to glyphosate-product (representative formulation).

- If Glyphosate is harmful, why has the EU not already forbidden it?

Under EU law (Reg.1107/2009), article 4 describes the mandatory conditions that an active substance has to fulfil in order to be approved for use on the European market. If not fulfilled, an active substance cannot be (re)approved.

Furthermore, the precautionary principle, firmly established in EU law (Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, Article 191), also  underpins the EU Pesticides Regulation (Reg.1107/2009, Article 1, §4). It ensures that active substances or products placed on the market do not adversely affect human or animal health or the environment. Consequently, if there is doubt about the potential adverse effects of an active substance or product on human or animal health or the environment, authorizations should not be granted.

Given the wide body of scientific evidence available, which clearly documents the detrimental impacts of glyphosate on human health and the environment and with respect to the EU law, it becomes apparent that glyphosate should be banned at the EU level to protect people’s health, biodiversity and the wider environment. It is therefore legitimate to wonder why glyphosate has not been banned in the EU yet. Reflecting on the past re-authorization process on glyphosate and the events that took place between 2016 and 2017, it becomes evident that the fault lies in the shortcomings of the EU approval procedure and the influence of the industry.

EU authorities dismiss legitimate science and consider studies that are not "reliable"

It was revealed in a scientific analysis published in June 2021 that out of the 53 industry-funded genotoxicity studies that were used for the EU’s 2017 authorization of glyphosate, only two studies could be identified as "reliable" from a methodological point of view.

Furthermore, a HEAL report published in June 2022, illustrated how the scientific evidence proving that glyphosate is carcinogenic has so far been dismissed in the EU scientific assessment. This report closely examined the 11 rats and mice studies provided by pesticide companies in 2019 as part of the application dossier. The analysis found the occurrence of statistically significant tumours. These findings highlight the serious scientific shortcomings and distortions in the interpretation of EU and international scientific standards.

The EU pesticide risk assessment is to a large extent based on industry-sponsored studies, while findings from academic independent literature are being ignored.

More recently, pesticide companies were found to have failed to disclose a series of studies assessing brain toxicity to European regulators despite the obligation for the applicant to submit all available adverse data.

The EU renewal process and the industry’s influence

Back in 2017, it was revealed in a major scandal that important sections of the EU assessment report of glyphosate were copy-pasted directly from the industry’s original application. Concerns over the industry’s involvement in the EU renewal process of glyphosate were further reinforced after "the Monsanto papers" were disclosed. These internal industry documents and emails revealed that Monsanto had concerns about glyphosate already in 1983.

- Can EU member states still outlaw the use of glyphosate within their own borders?

The approval of active substances, such as glyphosate, is carried out at the EU level. After active substances are approved at the EU level, companies can apply for the authorization of plant protection products (PPP) that contain the active substance in question to member states. Therefore, it becomes the responsibility of member states to subsequently grant approval for the use of PPP that contain those approved substances in their territory.

Therefore, individual member states can refuse or restrict the placing of all glyphosate-based herbicides (GBHs) on the market in their territory.

Additionally, under EU regulation 1107/2009, where a PPP is authorized, national authorities have the ability to withdraw the authorization (as per Article 44) if it is proven that the pesticide no longer meets the criteria specified in Article 29 of the pesticide regulation. In other words, if scientific evidence demonstrates that a pesticide poses a threat to human health, animal health, or the environment, a Member State is entitled to withdraw the national authorization.

There is a precedent of national-level bans and attempts to ban glyphosate-based herbicides by Member States. In 2019, France withdrew the national authorization of 36 GBHs representing 75% of the volumes of GBHs used in the country, due to a lack of safety regarding their potential for genotoxicity. In January 2021, Luxembourg revoked the market authorization for products containing glyphosate. However, this ban was overturned in March 2023 by an administrative appeal court. The Court clarified in its decision that the ban of GBHs is possible but subject to compliance with the EU rules as laid down in the EU Pesticide Regulation (Regulation (EU) 1107/2009). Therefore, any claim that the Luxembourg case demonstrates that glyphosate-based products cannot be banned at the member state level is misleading and incorrect.

There is a solid legal foundation and numerous compelling legal arguments to support the banning of glyphosate-based herbicides. However, placing the expectation on all 27 EU member states to independently impose bans on GBH is not a practical solution. It places an unfair burden on national governments and opens the door to potential industry influence. A European Union-wide ban on active substances would offer greater protection for health and the environment, ensuring uniform safeguards across all member states simultaneously.

- How widely is Glyphosate used ?

Obtaining comprehensive data on the volume of glyphosate applications and sales is challenging due to limited public availability and the confidential nature of such information. There is for instance no official data on the overall amount of glyphosate used for agricultural or nonagricultural purposes across the EU. However, there are notable indications of the widespread and extensive use of glyphosate. Since the expiration of Monsanto's patent in 2000, glyphosate has been marketed by over forty companies under several thousand brand names. It is available in more than a hundred countries worldwide.

To provide a glimpse of its scale, a study published in the journal Environmental Sciences Europe revealed that the global use of glyphosate increased 15-fold in just ten years, between 1994 and 2014, reaching an annual volume of 826,000 tonnes used worldwide (Benbrook, 2016). The glyphosate annual consumption was expected to reach over 1.35 million metric tons  in 2017 (Global Industry Analysts, 2011).

In 2012, Europe held around 16.6% of the global glyphosate market, and in 2017, glyphosate represented 33% of the total herbicide market in the EU (Antier et al., 2020). The global glyphosate market was estimated at about 7.6 Billion USD in 2020 (ReportLinker, 2021). Glyphosate is indisputably one of, if not the number one herbicide-active substance and the market leader, in Europe and globally.

Weed Management: Alternatives to the use of Glyphosate”, adapted from Benbrook 2016

- Are there any alternatives to glyphosate, and pesticides in general?

Contrary to claims made by the agrochemical industry, viable alternatives to herbicides exist. Organic farmers have successfully employed non-chemical methods for over 70 years. In this time, significant scientific progress has been made in developing and refining non-chemical weed management techniques. Moreover, the prohibition of synthetic herbicides in organic agriculture since the 1960s has resulted in the development of a wide range of specialized weeding machinery.

The use of herbicides, including glyphosate, can be significantly reduced, even eliminated in conventional agriculture. However, as a first step we have to question our approach of considering that all weeds in the crop fields are “pests” that need to be eradicated. In fact, about 80% of plants on the field do not need to be killed and can actually be beneficial to the farmer and food production systems. A successful and sustainable weed management requires the integration of a wide range of different methods. Measures have to be tailored to the type of weed, and the type of crop, usually applied in combination, at specific times of the life cycle of the crop. This approach is the basis of integrated weed management (IWM), where techniques such as crop rotation, mechanical weeding, biological control, and active monitoring are used to achieve optimum weed management and healthy, pesticide-free, quality crops with good yields.

The practices of weed management can be divided into four parts:

  • Preventive and cultural agronomic practices
  • Monitoring – observation and identification of weeds, assessment of potential value or harm
  • Physical control
  • Biological control

The foundation of weed management is based on preventive and cultural weed management techniques. All of these cultural techniques are preventive; they are not about controlling weeds that have already become established but rather prevent the weeds from establishing in the first place. These methods are used to maintain field conditions so that weeds are less likely to become established and/or increase in number or to strengthen the crops and facilitate them in competing with the weeds. Cultural weed control includes a wide range of practices such as:

  • Crop rotation: changing crops seasonally to manage weeds by preventing the dominance of specific weed species. It works by suppressing weeds through the alternating growth of different crops with contrasting conditions for weed growth.
  • Intercropping: growing two or more plants simultaneously in the same field so that the properties of each plant facilitate the growth of the other. It is useful in fighting weeds as it suppresses weed germination and growth through shading, allelopathy, competition for resources, and other interactions.

Direct physical weed control options are useful to fight established weeds. Farmers and growers can make use of the vast range of weeding machinery available (in-crop weed management) for weed management. Weeding machines can be differentiated by their modes of action, which are suitable for different needs. Amongst these machines, electrothermal weeders have a systemic mode of action similar to glyphosate; it can kill all types of plants, including those resistant to glyphosate. This method functions by applying high-voltage electricity to a plant's foliage. The electricity heats the water inside the plant to boiling point, causing the cells to burst and effectively killing the plant. It can replace herbicides in various agricultural applications, such as field preparation, crop desiccation, and targeted weed control. Ongoing research aims to enhance its efficiency and reduce the energy required for weed elimination.

Many other non-chemical methods are available to avoid the use of glyphosate, such as biological weed control, weed management by livestock, harvest seed control, mulching, and more. These alternatives offer both low and high-tech options that offer different advantages to farmers. However, it is vital to integrate various methods into non-chemical weed management because one method is rarely enough to manage all weeds at all times in all crops. Indeed, even with herbicide-based weed management, a range of different types of herbicide modes of action is required to achieve sufficient weed management across the whole farm.

According to Nicolas Munier-Jolain, coordinator at IPMWORKS, and a researcher at France’s Institute for Agriculture, Food and the Environment (INRAE), the data collected between 2020 and 2021 from European farms which have implemented IPM strategies demonstrates that it is possible to do without pesticides while maintaining economic activity.

If you're keen on learning more, a wealth of information can be found in the report titled: 'WEED MANAGEMENT: ALTERNATIVES TO THE USE OF GLYPHOSATE.' This report serves as a valuable and relevant resource for anyone interested in alternatives to glyphosate. It provides comprehensive information on the Integrated Pest Management (IPM) approach and the diverse range of weed management approaches available to achieve effective weed control without the use of herbicides.

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