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Belgium: glyphosate herbicide ban
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The safety of glyphosate is an ongoing issue, with the EU Commission still refusing to put in place legally binding restrictions on glyphosate herbicides. In the light of probable re-authorisation at EU level, member states are taking matters in to their own hands. In an article published on 1 May GMWatch (www.gmwatch.org) has analysed the state of play and highlights the views of member states and the position of the EU Parliament in conflict with the Commission.
The announcement by Belgium’s federal minister of agriculture, Willy Borsus, makes it clear that he wants to ban at federal level the sale and use of herbicides in general and glyphosate in particular by non-professionals. In his view the risks justify a ban, especially as various safer alternatives are available, including bio-pesticides.
In fact, at regional level, both the Brussels Region and Wallonia have already banned the non-professional use of glyphosate herbicides. Although agricultural use will still be permitted in Wallonia, the regional government intends to mandate buffer zones between sprayed fields and neighbouring properties. Meanwhile the Flemish environment minister, Joke Schauvliege, plans to follow suit and ban glyphosate for non-professional use in Flanders.
Thus Borsus's initiative will bring federal and regional regulation of glyphosate into line. In Belgium as a whole the use of any pesticides by public authorities in areas such as parks, school grounds, and playgrounds has been banned since 2015.
France has banned the use of pesticides by the state, local authorities and public bodies for the maintenance of public spaces, forests and roadsides. The sale of pesticides to non-professionals such as amateur gardeners will also be banned from January 2019.
Italy has banned the use of glyphosate in areas frequented by the public or by vulnerable groups such as children and the elderly. The list of banned areas includes parks, gardens and courtyards, the edges of roads and railways, urban areas, sports fields and recreational areas, playgrounds and green areas within school buildings, and areas adjacent to health facilities. In addition, the pre-harvest use of glyphosate is banned.
In the Netherlands, a ban on the use of any herbicides on hard surfaces has been in place since November 2015.
The EU Commission
Belgium’s federal minister of agriculture Borsus has also called for a new investigation into alleged manipulation of research and malpractice by Monsanto with the aim of keeping glyphosate on the market. Borsus’s move follows prominent coverage in the European press of the internal Monsanto documents (the so-called Monsanto papers) emerging out of the cancer litigation in the United States. One Belgian MEP has called the glyphosate scandal another Dieselgate, likening it to Volkswagen’s fraudulent programming of engines during emissions testing. Leading toxicologist Prof Jan Tytgat, president of the European Section of the International Society on Toxinology, has called for new studies on the chemical to ascertain once and for all how harmful it is.
The action by member states has taken place against a background of far greater tolerance towards glyphosate on the part of the EU Commission that sees no reason to place any meaningful and legally binding restrictions on glyphosate herbicides. EU Commission President Juncker has indicated in a letter to MEPs that nothing stands in the way of the Commission proposing the re-approval of glyphosate since, given the thorough evaluation of all available information by the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) and the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), there was no need to classify glyphosate as carcinogenic, mutagenic or toxic to reproduction.
Reaction to the position of the Commission is encapsulated in the views of France’s environment minister Ségolène Royal: she has aligned herself with the verdict of the World Health Organisation’s cancer agency IARC, which has classified glyphosate as a probable carcinogen. Royal roundly condemns ECHA, saying that she is appalled that, contrary to the advice of IARC, ECHA does not recognize glyphosate as a carcinogen.
Still unknown is how soon the Commission will issue its proposal to re-approve glyphosate. The other question is which governments will oppose the Commission, and try to make it follow the Parliament’s advice on EU-wide restrictions. Effectively, these restrictions will have to be based on environmental grounds, since the European agencies have dismissed all relevant health concerns.