Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development
Recent debates about glyphosate products have shown the tensions between organic farmers and agricultural biotechnology corporations. What stance should the European Union adopt to protect sustainable farming whilst safeguarding international partnerships vital for the European economy ?
Chairpersons : Eloïse Faverolle (FR)
Pesticide : A pesticide prevents, destroys, or controls a harmful organism or disease, which
Last November, after 2 years of intense debates, the European Union has decided to reauthorize the trade and use of glyphosate1 on its territory for the next 5 years. This decision revived the controversial debate between the supporters and opponents of the products and increased the gap between different stakeholders: industries, farmers, non-governmental organizations, associations, public institutions and scientists.
Recently, the “Monsanto Papers” made headlines for the deceptive practises of the firm. Indeed, the powerful American firm paid scientists worldwide to say or to sign articles which “scientifically” declare the glyphosate harmless and counter opposite information. The debate on the real effects of glyphosate and pesticides is still on, and one of the main unresolved issues is if these pesticides have to be forbidden or not.
International organizations as well as many farmers claim that glyphosate is dangerous and that the use of such a pesticide must end, while other (like the European Commission) are more uncertain and for the time being are unwilling to forbid its use. For them the debate about the consumption and the consequences of pesticides is compared to the consumption of tobacco for example, of which the trade is allowed and has strong consequences on health, like cancer2. But the point of differentiation between these two products is the transparency and general awareness. Indeed, while people are aware of the consequences of smoking and continue to do it, consequences of pesticides used on the fruits and vegetables are not really known.
Is glyphosate cancerogenic? The World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classify glyphosate as probably cancerogenic to humans3– this is the study on which many members of the European Parliament base their stance, while the European Food Safety Authority claims that glyphosate is unlikely to pose a carcinogenic hazard to humans4 (this agency is accused of having copied the rapports of Monsanto) – this is the study on which members of the European Commission rely.
Do alternative solutions exist to replace glyphosate and pesticides? The major problem here is what will replace glyphosate once it is banned. Some alternatives are proposed, but one is especially supported by some farmers: going organic. But the output of this kind of agriculture is low and the product is expensive. Thus, can more eco-friendly pesticides be considered? The risk is that pesticides containing glyphosate might be replaced by other which are similar or even worse. Is it dangerous to forbid it if there’s no other way to protect crops? If no other alternative is considered even before the ban, it might be developed in its aftermath and be more expensive or dangerous. One of the main reasons to defend glyphosate is that it is a very economical solution for farmers willing to ensure a better productivity. However, as the French National Institute for Agricultural Research (INRA)5 informs, potential alternatives do exist and pesticides that are natural and safe for humans are being developed6.
After the last debates, does the glyphosate stand a chance to be forbidden in 5 years? Those who were in favor of the reauthorization of the sale of glyphosate in the European Union see this 5 years renewal as a gap which is supposed to give time to the farmers and the corporations to adapt. A progressive disappearance of glyphosate is what the gap is meant to be. But there is no certainty that this purpose will be achieved or that glyphosate will be banned in 5 years: indeed, there is a fear that the EU will give in to the industry lobbyists’ pressure.
Another aspect of the use of pesticides that needs to be discussed is economical and needs to take into account the existing international partnerships and corporations. Throughout the years, the EU has negotiated partnerships such as TAFTA (Transatlantic Free Trade Agreement) or CETA (Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement). Some opponents of these partnerships point out their danger for the environmental and agricultural policies the EU tries to implement. The criticism addressed towards certain international partnerships emphasizes the fact that they might allow the selling of products containing pesticides that would not be allowed in the EU.
Moreover, some hesitation is highlighted by opposition to the € 53 billions merger between BAYER of Germany and American-based Monsanto. The fear is based on the lobbying capabilities of such a corporation in the European institutions. Moreover, another worry stemming from this merger is that this new corporation could have an incentive to increase its revenues with the sales of pesticides on the one hand and sales of the solutions to counter their consequences on the human health on the other.
To conclude, the decision to be made with regard to pesticides and farming issues in general is not an easy one as there is still not enough reliable information about the hazardousness of glyphosate and pesticides. This lack of information, the concerns about its veracity, few alternatives for glyphosate and pesticides makes us rethink whether they should be prohibited after all. The debate concerning certain international partnerships and their consequences makes up for a part of this problem as well; their positive effect expected for the economy can be going hand in hand with potentially negative effects on the farming and health.
1. Commercialised worldwide under the name ROUNDUP, Glyphosate is a pesticide and more precisely an herbicide. Glyphosate is used to kill weeds and to regulate plant growth and ripen fruit.
2. L. Pahpy, Glyphosate : et si l’interdire était encore plus risqué ?, Contrepoints, December 4, 2017, https://www.contrepoints.org/2017/12/04/304535-glyphosate-linterdire-aurait-e
3. IARC Monographs Volume 112 : evaluation of five organophosphate insecticides and herbicides, IARC, March 20, 2015, http://www.iarc.fr/en/media-centre/iarcnews/pdf/MonographVolume112.pdf
4. Conclusion on the peer review of the pesticide risk assessment of the active substance glyphosate, European Food Safety Authority, 2015, http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.2903/j.efsa.2015.4302/epdf
5. Reboud X. et al., Usages et alternatives au glyphosate dans l’agriculture française, Institut national de la recherche agronomique, 2017, http://institut.inra.fr/Missions/Eclairer-les-decisions/Etudes/Toutes-lesactualites/Usages-et-alternatives-au-glyphosate
6. E. Pommiers, “Quelles sont les alternatives au glyphosate ?”, Le Monde, November 28, 2017, http://www.lemonde.fr/planete/article/2017/11/28/quelles-sont-les-alternatives-au-glyphosate_5221693_3244.html