Glyphosate, for which member states of the European Union have just given a 5-year approval, is an active ingredient used in herbicides, the harmfulness of which is controversial.
It is classed as being “probably carcinogenic” by the World Health Organisation (WHO). Glyphosate has also been subject to more favourable studies, some of which may have been influenced by Monsanto, the chemical giant, which used it in its product Roundup.
The product has been used for more than 40 years as a herbicide in traditional agriculture. Developed by Monsanto, and present in its flagship product Roundup, glyphosate’s patent went into the public domain at the beginning of the 2000s.
Questions around its harmfulness reached their peak when, in 2015, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) based in Lyon, an organisation dependent upon the World Health Organisation, considered that glyphosate was “probably carcinogenic” for humans.
In the same time period, the European food chain agency (EFSA – European Food Safety Authority) and the European chemical products agency (ECHA – European Chemicals Agency) both considered that they could not conclusively state the carcinogenic nature of glyphosate. This opened the way for the renewal of its authorisation.
However, several organisations criticised both agencies for having based their analyses on positive studies, which were both financed – and therefore influenced – by Monsanto.
These organisations say that leaked documents coming from the American giant show the various techniques – lobbying and “ghostwriting” (the writing of studies which are then signed by renowned scientists for payment) – were used by the company. This was done with a view to presenting its flagship product in a much more positive light than was warranted.
European citizens have joined forces to demand the prohibition of glyphosate. They have gathered more than a million signatures in a few months in favour of their European citizen initiative on the subject. MEPs have also demanded the prohibition of glyphosate by December 2020, with meanwhile a gradual limitation of the substance.
On Monday, member states chose by a very small majority – 65.7% – to permit the unconditional renewal of glyphosate for five years. Belgium voted against the proposal.