EU on the verge of historic vote to ban use of controversial weedkiller

The European Parliament’s vote to ban glyphosate indicates that political support is moving towards “increased restrictions”, MEP Mairead McGuinness has cautioned.

Speaking after environment commitee MEPs voted in favour of phasing out the controversial weedkiller over the next five years, the Fine Gael MEP, and vice-president of the European Parliament, warned that a policy shift away from other plant protection products may be on the horizon.

Today MEPs approved a resolution, which is non binding, against extending the licensing of the herbicide for another 10 years. Instead they called for further restrictions on the chemical from 2018 and an outright ban in 2022.

They voted 355 in favour of the ban, 204 against and 111 abstentions were recorded.

“At one level at least the parliament is not banning it overnight. The parliament voted to ban its use by the end of this year in non-agricultural settings and to ban its use for desiccation of crops, which would have an impact in Ireland.

We haven’t got the final say, it’s a non-binding resolution, but it shows that the political support is moving towards more restrictions on plant protection products.

“A few months ago the parliament voted for a seven year extension. Today it’s five and a phase out, so the lobby to ban is very strong and that was indicated in the vote today,” said McGuinness.

Tomorrow, EU member states will vote on a commission proposal to renew a full 10 year marketing re-authorisation of glyphosate – one of the world’s most widely used weedkillers and the main ingredient in Roundup.

“It’s hard to predict how it will go at this stage. I would have some concerns myself that this indicates a policy shift away from plant protection products generally. We have voted on sustainable use and towards the training farmers and we’ve done all the right things.

Science

“But now if we look at banning such products that could just be a step towards other products being banned or phased out.

Where the science says that is the right thing to do, then that’s fine. But in the terms of glyphosate it’s not quite so clear that that is what the science is indicating.

“Maybe if the license is extended for five years we will have a more reasoned debate and reflection about its use, sustainability and alternatives,” added McGuinness.

Following today’s vote, IFA president Joe Healy said Ireland, and other member states, must “stand up” and support European Commissioner for Health and Food Safety Vytenis Andriukaitis, who strongly supports a 10 year licence renewal.

Healy claims there is a clear lack of political leadership when it comes to supporting peer reviewed scientific opinion on glyphosate. He argues that the current debate is being driven by populism, based on politics and not science.

“The lack of political leadership across the EU is seriously undermining fact-based scientific opinion. This has resulted in the current debacle where important tools such as plant protection products, including glyphosate, could be lost to the agricultural sector.

Glyphosate is an important agricultural, horticultural and amenity herbicide. It is used to minimise weed infestation from economically important crops. It has been used to excellent effect in Irish and European farming for almost 40 years.

“The herbicide is an integral part of the modern farming practice in both tillage and grassland production. It is a key arable crop management tool that allows farmers to produce an abundance of safe, affordable, quality food. Its judicious use allows us to adopt minimum tillage practices, thus preventing soil erosion and reducing greenhouse gas emissions from the sector,” he said.

‘Political football’

IFA national grain chairman Liam Dunne claims the glyphosate issue is being used as a “political football” by vested interest groups who have become suspicious of the chemical’s alleged effects on human health.

“It is vitally important that any decision to approve, or not approve, plant protection products is based on the best scientific evidence available and not on a political whim. Unfortunately, politics, rather than science, has been the main driver behind several important decisions taken in relation to crop production technologies in recent years,” he said.