On Friday, European member states will vote on the use of the herbicide glyphosate. If the majority agrees, the drug can be used for at least another ten years. What is glyphosate and why do some parties want to ban its use?
Glyphosate has been the most widely used herbicide in the world for years. It is known to many people as Roundup. It was introduced to the market by the Monsanto company in the 1970s, but is now sold by more manufacturers.
The product is a herbicide, or a chemical crop protection product. It kills weeds that are non-resistant and is used by many farmers to clear fields of weeds. This way they increase the harvest. You can recognize the use by the yellow colored fields.
Roundup itself no longer contains glyphosate. In the Netherlands, the substance is no longer allowed to be sold or used by private individuals since this year. This is because there has been a discussion for years about the impact of glyphosate on people, animals and the environment.
Voting on extension of use
The drug may now be used by companies until December 15 this year. The European Commission wants to allow glyphosate for another ten years. The European Member States will vote on this next Friday. If a large majority of the 15 Member States agree with the proposal, the drug may continue to be used.
The Netherlands will abstain from this vote on Friday, Agriculture Minister Piet Adema decided yesterday. He emphasizes that glyphosate is safe to use according to various studies. However, the outgoing cabinet has instructed RIVM to investigate the health risks of the drug.
The Agriculture and Horticulture Organization of the Netherlands (LTO) supports the cabinet’s choice. They believe that the drug should continue to be used as long as there is no research that shows whether there are any risks. However, they find the signals about neurological diseases such as Parkinson’s worrying and call for careful investigation into this.
Organizations disagree about risks
Researchers disagree about the possible health effects of glyphosate. The European Food Authority (EFSA) recently assessed again that the use of glyphosate does not pose “unacceptable risks”. While the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Superior Health Council of Belgium share the conclusion that glyphosate is “probably” carcinogenic.
There are also suspicions that the substance can cause Parkinson’s and has a negative effect on the intestinal flora. “The risks are greatest for farmers,” says Martin van den Berg, professor of toxicology at Utrecht University. “They are often exposed to the drug unprotected.” According to him, the risk of neurological diseases, such as Parkinson’s, is much more likely than the risk of cancer.
If Van den Berg has his way, the drug should be further investigated and allowed for a shorter period. “An admission of three to five years gives time to do good research,” he says.