EU extends approval for weed killer claimed to harm health

In Photo: A bottle of Monsanto’s Roundup pesticide in a gardening store in Lille, France

BRUSSELS—The European Union (EU) on Monday approved a five-year extension to the use of the weed killer glyphosate, in a move that failed to satisfy either environmentalists or farmers and pitted Germany against France.

After a drawn-out process, the EU backed the extension with a qualified majority and was able to beat a mid-December deadline when the current license expires—18 member-states voted in favor, nine against, while one abstained.

Germany put its weight behind the extension, a move that divided the caretaker government in Berlin and could have repercussions on Chancellor Angela Merkel’s negotiations to form a grand coalition between her conservative bloc and the center-left
Socialist Democrats.

France remained opposed and there was anger with the outcome.

“This is Black Monday for health,” French European Parliament deputy Yannick Jadot told BFM TV.

But President Emmanuel Macron said he tasked the government “to take the necessary measures so that the use of glyphosate is forbidden in France as soon as alternatives are found, and at the latest in three years.”

Environmentalists had hoped on an immediate ban since they claim that the weed killer, used in chemical giant Monsanto’s popular Roundup herbicide, is linked to cancer. The World Health Organization’s cancer agency said in 2015 that the weed killer is “probably carcinogenic” to humans.

“The decision taken today by a narrow qualified majority of member-states has locked the EU into another five years of toxic agriculture,” Green member of the European Parliament Bart Staes said. “This is a dark day for consumers, farmers and the environment.”

Many farmers, who say the substance is safe, had wanted a 15-year extension. EU nations long failed to find a compromise, amid conflicting health reports.

Despite welcoming the limited extension, the president of the EU’s Copa-Cogeca farmer association, Pekka Pesonen, insisted glyphosate “should have been reauthorized for 15 years after it was given a positive assessment by both the European Food Safety Authority and the European Chemicals Agency.”

Banning glyphosate outright would have shaken Europe’s agriculture sector, since it is so
widely used.

Germany voted for the extension over the objection of Social Democrat Environment Minister Barbara Hendricks, who said she had told Christian Democrat Agriculture Minister Christian Schmidt on the phone on Monday that she was against it.

Schmidt, whose Christian Social Union is the sister party to Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union, told the Rheinische Post that Germany had voted for the agreement because of conditions that will “strengthen the role of biodiversity and animal protection.”

Hendricks suggested the vote could make the possibility of building a new coalition government in Germany between her party and Merkel’s conservative bloc more difficult.

“Anyone who is interested in developing trust between two parties cannot behave that way,” she said.

The approval also came after the Greens moved out of the picture as a possible coalition partner.

Image credits: Philippe Hugen/AFP via Getty Images/Bloomberg


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