Nov. 28, 2017 – Brussels, Belgium — The European Commission has approved a new five-year license for glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup weed killer. The result of yesterday’s vote allows for glyphosate-based herbicides like Roundup to be purchased and sprayed in the EU without any restrictions on use.
“The European Commission disregarded science and failed to represent the stated interest of many thousands of EU citizens who do not want this dangerous product to be sold and used,” says Michael Baum, managing partner of the law firm of Baum Hedlund Aristei & Goldman. Baum Hedlund represents hundreds of individuals throughout the United States who are suing Monsanto, alleging exposure to Roundup caused them to develop non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
With the glyphosate license in the EU set to expire in a matter of weeks, there was a growing sense going into Monday’s vote that Roundup could potentially be removed from store shelves. Just last week, the European Parliament received a petition signed by over 1.3 million EU citizens calling for a ban on glyphosate.
Instead, an EU Commission appeal committee voted to reauthorize glyphosate, a chemical the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) lists as a “probable human carcinogen.”
Until yesterday, reauthorization for glyphosate in Europe had been stuck in a stalemate as several previous votes could not produce a clear majority in favor or against the proposed licensing agreements. Some EU Member States, including France, called for a full ban of the chemical by 2022.
But Germany unexpectedly decided to vote in favor of the five-year glyphosate license in the EU after previously abstaining from voting on several occasions. Germany’s ‘yes’ vote, which swung the majority in favor of relicensing, is now the subject of controversy as the country’s agriculture minister reportedly voted in favor of the five-year license despite instruction from his own government to abstain from voting.
Germany’s Controversial Vote for Glyphosate Renewal
Germany’s vote was a shock to many, including the country’s environment minister, Barbara Hendricks.
Hendricks told the media following the vote that Germany’s agriculture minister, Christian Schmidt, defied her instruction to abstain from voting on the matter. Ms. Hendricks said she “declared clearly” to Mr. Schmidt that she “did not agree with an extension of the renewal of glyphosate,” but he then “received another instruction than the one which was agreed between us.”
“Exactly two hours before the start of the Appeals Committee meeting, today at 12:30, I clearly stated to my colleague Mr. Schmidt over the phone that I still disagree with renewing the approval of glyphosate, even under certain conditions,” said Ms. Hendricks in a statement on Monday.
“It was therefore also clear that Germany had to abstain at the appeal committee meeting. At 13:07, Mr. Schmidt confirmed to me by SMS that the disagreement remains. Apparently at the same time a different directive was issued to the representative of the Federal Ministry of Agriculture in Brussels than was agreed between us. Anyone interested in building trust between interlocutors cannot behave in that way.”
Mr. Schmidt is from the CSU party, which is an ally to Germany’s Chancellor, Angela Merkel. When asked on Tuesday if he received Chancellor Merkel’s blessing to vote in favor of the new glyphosate license, Mr. Schmidt told the media that he acted alone.
“I have made the decision on my own and within the responsibility of my department,” Schmidt told German public broadcaster ARD this morning, adding that he had made the decision in an “objectively oriented matter.”
German chemical firm Bayer, which has been engaged in talks with Monsanto about a mega-merger, was seeking a 15-year license agreement for glyphosate, as was Monsanto. When the vote tally was reported, Bayer said in a statement that glyphosate meets the EU’s required safety standards.
Sven Giegold, a spokesman for Germany’s Green Party, disagrees with Bayer’s assessment. Mr. Giegold took to Twitter on Monday, calling the vote a “scandal” and “a slap in the face to the environment and consumers.”
On Tuesday after the news of Mr. Schmidt’s actions were made public, Green Party officials suggested that he should resign or be forcibly removed from his post.
How Did the EU Member States Vote on Glyphosate?
The vote tally was weighted by Member State population size:
Countries in Favor of Glyphosate License in the EU (18 countries, 65.71 percent of vote): Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Latvia, Lithuania, Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and United Kingdom.
Countries Against Glyphosate License in the EU (9 countries, 32.26 percent of vote): Austria, Belgium, Croatia, Cypress, France, Greece, Italy, Luxembourg, and Malta.
Countries That Abstained from Voting: (1 country, 2.02 percent of vote): Portugal.
France Will Continue to Seek Phase Out of Glyphosate
France led the coalition of Member States that did not want glyphosate to be relicensed in the continent. On Monday, French President Emmanuel Macron vowed to get rid of glyphosate in his country within the next three years.
On Twitter, Macron said, “I have asked the government to take the necessary measures for the use of glyphosate to be banned in France as soon as alternatives are found, and at the latest in three years. #MakeOurPlanetGreatAgain”
What People Are Saying About the Reapproved Glyphosate License in the EU
“I fear that there are interests other than public health and environment are defended. The German BfR agency, which was the first rapporteur for large parts of the evaluation, was guilty of scientific fraud, copying large parts of the Glyphosate Task Force report and then refusing to refer and lie about it. There is the interest of the German chemical company Bayer, which offers tens of billions to take over Monsanto. A ban on glyphosate would have made that company largely worthless.” – Bart Straes, Member of European Parliament, Belgium, Green Party
“The people who are supposed to protect us from dangerous pesticides have failed to do their jobs and betrayed the trust Europeans place in them.” – Franziska Achterberg, Greenpeace EU Food Policy Director
“The guidelines maintained by ECHA [the European chemical agency] would easily classify this compound [glyphosate] as a group 1B carcinogen and, as such, it should be banned for use in Europe.” – Dr. Christopher Portier, Former Director U.S. National Center for Environmental Health
“Glyphosate damages nature, probably causes cancer, and props up an industrial farming system that is degrading the land we need to feed ourselves. Today’s approval, even if only for five years, is a missed opportunity to get rid of this risky weed killer and start to get farmers off the chemical treadmill. Five more years of glyphosate will put our health and environment at risk, and is a major setback to more sustainable farming methods.” – Adrian Bebb, Friends of the Earth Europe
“PAN UK is disappointed to report that the controversial weed killer, glyphosate, has been given approval for use in the EU for a further five years. What is even more disappointing is that the new approval comes without any restriction on use by the public, in public spaces or for use as a pre-harvest desiccant. This is a massive opportunity lost, restrictions and bans would spur on innovative approaches to replacing glyphosate, bringing positive benefits for human health, the environment and UK farmers.” – Pesticide Action Network, United Kingdom (PAN UK)
“This is a toxic decision. A majority of EU nations, including the UK are ignoring huge opposition from civil society; the almost one and a half million EU citizens who have signed a petition against glyphosate and the European Parliament who recently voted for a five-year phase out. This again confirms the profound influence agrichemical corporates have over our public institutions and policymakers. Governments have cracked under the intimidating pressure of Monsanto and others. It is time to weed out the poison from the Commission and its Agencies and root out corporate lobbyists who are having such a huge influence on EU governments. They are working against the interests of public health and environmental protection.” – Molly Scott Cato, Member of European Parliament, United Kingdom, Green Party
“European governments failed European citizens and future generations today by granting the world’s most widely used weed killer a new license to harm our health and our environment, rather than setting a date to ban glyphosate once and for all.” – Health and Environment Alliance, EU Non-Profit