The European debate on glyphosate has led one Irish MEP to question what policy should be based on, if policymakers can’t trust science?

The serious question was raised by the first vice-president of the European Parliament, Mairead McGuinness.

Speaking recently in the parliament, McGuinness said that “nothing new” was heard in a recent public hearing on ‘The Monsanto Papers and Glyphosate’.

Scientific evidence and advice from EU agencies, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) that glyphosate is not a carcinogen was repeated during the hearing, she added.

McGuinness highlighted that this is advice and guidance that she accepts.

Despite this advice and guidance there are other organisations which claim that glyphosate is a carcinogen – while Monsanto has also been accused of “ghost writing” scientific studies.

Commenting on the matter, McGuinness said: “The most telling and disturbing comment in this hearing came from European Corporate Observatory, which opposes the re-licensing of glyphosate and asked the question, ‘What do we do about farmers who face the choice of cancer or losses?’.

We should not underestimate the lobby to ban glyphosate.

“But we also need to understand that for many decades glyphosate has proven itself to be an effective tool for farmers, and there is no safe substitute product that we know of.”

Consequences of a ban

Even those who are in favour of banning glyphosate admit that there will be huge consequences for European agriculture, according to McGuinness.

“There is also the reality that none of our trading partners today or potential partners in the future are likely to ban this product.

“So if member states refuse to give their approval for it to be licensed beyond the end of this year, it will no longer be available to farmers, yet we will import animal feed and raw materials produced using glyphosate products,” she added.

‘Policymakers will have a stark choice to make’

The Irish MEP believes that there is one area of concern that regulators do need to address, which is the issue of co-formulants used with glyphosate.

“The European Parliament’s glyphosate resolution supported the withdrawing of products containing a formulation of POE – tallowamine and glyphosate because of real concerns about its safety.

“If EFSA, ECHA and the environment protection agencies of Japan, Canada and Australia have all concluded that glyphosate is not a carcinogen – yet there are claims to the contrary – then policymakers (who are not toxicologists) are left with a stark choice to rely on the scientific expertise of the agencies we know and fund or ignore them.

“We risk downgrading our regulatory system, denying farmers an important production tool and unnecessarily causing fears among citizens about products which have helped to produce food in abundance in the EU,” she concluded.

It is expected that a decision on the future of glyphosate in the EU will be made later this month. Member states will be required to show their support for its approval or vote to ban the product on October 25.

This vote will have a major impact on EU farmers and our food production system, McGuinness warned.