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The future of Monsanto’s Roundup weed killer in Europe may hang on a vote of European Union representatives this week, with France already voicing support for a Roundup ban due to the potential health risks.
An appeal committee of 28 representatives from EU nations are scheduled to vote on Friday to determine whether to renew the license for Roundup’s active ingredient, glyphosate. The vote comes after the European Commission failed to garner enough support to extend the license earlier this month.
If the license is not renewed by June 30, a recall for Roundup and other glyphosate-based herbicides may be effectively put in place throughout EU, requiring products to be removed from store shelves.
What is usually a routine renewal has turned into a heated debate over the safety of Monsanto’s Roundup, after the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) warned in March 2015 that glyphosate was a likely cancer-causing agent.
Following the IARC report, several major European countries called for much more extensive safety studies of glyphosate, the most popular and widely used herbicide on the planet, or outright bans on its use due to fears of a potential link between Roundup and non-Hodgkins lymphoma, as well as other forms of cancer.
Due to objections from several member states, the European executive called for a 12 to 18 month extension on the license to give time for a further study by the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) into Roundup side effects and potential health risks. The normal license renewal lasts for 15 years.
Earlier this month, member states of the EU voted 20 to 7 to grant a 12 to 18-month extension on the glyphosate license to permit more time for a safety review. However, under EU rules, a vote must represent 65% of the EU’s population for the proposal to go forward, and due to abstentions and “no” votes from larger nations, that failed to happen.
The matter has been given to the appeals committee, which will vote again on Friday. However, France, which represents nearly 8% of the population has said it plans to vote against renewal, according to multiple European and U.S. news sources.
Together with Italy, Sweden and The Netherlands, who all originally opposed the license renewal, they represent more than 18% of the EU’s population. In addition, Germany has so far abstained from voting on the matter as German-based Bayer attempts to buy out Monsanto. It is the second largest nation with 9.54% of the EU’s population. Together, that represents nearly 30% of the population, leaving very little wiggle room for an approval vote to pass.
If the situation is still not resolved, the European Commission could theoretically take unilateral action of some kind before the deadline, but would face tremendous political pressure from major members of the EU not to do so at a time when the world’s attention is focused on issues of EU nation’s sovereignty due to the “Brexit” vote, where the U.K. is deciding whether to stay a part of the EU or go its own way.
A meeting of member state EU environmental ministers is scheduled to meet on June 28 to discuss the glyphosate issue regardless of the outcome of the appeals vote.
Resistance to IARC Findings
Monsanto has aggressively criticized the IARC’s decision and other critics of glyphosate, dismissing the IARC findings as agenda driven and based on “junk science.”
The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has also conflicted with the IARC findings, declaring glyphosate to be safe.
Scientists and supporters on both sides of the debate have called the processes of the other unscientific, and the European Commission has delayed the renewal of glyphosate’s license across Europe and glyphosate products may be recalled in Europe if its license is not renewed by June 30.
In the United States, the EPA is being pressured from both sides, with Rep. Lamar Smith, Chairman of the U.S. House, Science, Space and Technology Committee, sending a letter to the agency earlier this month questioning the involvement of EPA scientists with the IARC’s decision. The letter questions the IARC’s integrity and calls for interviews with a number of EPA scientists and officials, as well as documents on the agency’s ongoing glyphosate review.
Days later, a group of independent scientists led by Congressman Ted Lieu of California met with EPA officials and members of the U.S. Congress and called for a Roundup ban in the U.S., citing numerous health and environmental risks.
Roundup Lawsuits In the U.S.
A recent U.S. Geological Survey on glyphosate usage nationwide found that an estimated 2.6 billion pounds of the herbicide has been sprayed on America’s agricultural land over the two decades since the mid-1990s, when Monsanto introduced “Roundup Ready” crops that are designed to survive being sprayed with glyphosate, killing the weeds but not the crops.
In all that time, the FDA has never tested for residue or buildup in the food sold to Americans nationwide. In a report published in 2014, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) criticized the FDA for this deficiency in its pesticide program.
Monsanto now faces a growing number of Roundup cancer lawsuits in the United States, typically involving individuals diagnosed with a form of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma following heavy exposure to the herbicide as a farm or agricultural worker.
The complaints allege that plaintiffs may have avoided a cancer diagnosis if they had been warned about the Roundup risks for farmers, landscapers and others in the agricultural industry, as safety precautions could have been taken or other products could have been used to control the growth of weeds.