Spotlight returns to the glyphosate debate in the EU Parliament

The spotlight will return to the glyphosate debate in the EU Parliament today, as a hearing takes place on the Citizens Initiative.

This initiative has been signed by over 1.3 million people from across the EU – including over 11,000 Irish – who are in favour of banning glyphosate, reforming the pesticide approval procedure, and setting EU-wide mandatory reduction targets for pesticide use.

The Citizens Initiative points to concern and distrust of the current regime of herbicide and pesticide regulation, according to Irish MEP and the first vice-president of the European Parliament Mairead McGuinness.

Speaking ahead of the hearing in Brussels today, she said: “Our own regulators are also being questioned and disbelieved.

This is deeply alarming and extremely disruptive of the system of regulation currently used in the EU and by member states.

“On glyphosate, both the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) and the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) have said glyphosate is safe to use as recommended and is not carcinogenic.

“However in the ongoing and sometimes emotional debate on agrochemicals, it is clear that minds are made up to be either for or against and that there is little room for balanced discussion.”

‘Unnecessary uncertainty and unnecessary fears’

This impasse is bad for everyone, McGuinness warned as it creates unnecessary uncertainty and unnecessary fears.

“It also ignores the very important work being done by farmers to address questions of soil fertility, climate action and reduced use of chemicals for both environmental and economic reasons,” she added.

Many farmers are concerned about their own sustainability, as farmers crave knowledge and information about how to tackle environmental issues, including biodiversity, the Irish MEP explained.

“This trend at farm level is welcome and necessary and gives power back to farmers as land managers to be more in tune with the complexity of farming systems. However, what they are calling for is a coherent research and advisory system which aides them to make the transition.

For tillage farmers who practice minimum cultivation, glyphosate is an important tool which is used sparingly and appropriately.

“An immediate ban would force these farmers back to ploughing and spraying with other products and would work against everything they have done to date.

“What is needed is some balance in the debate, where we question inputs used and work for reductions as appropriate – but do not resort to simplistic bans,” she said.

Research funding

Meanwhile, McGuinness also outlined that petitioners have called for the scientific evaluation of pesticides for EU regulatory approval to be based only on published studies, which are commissioned by competent public authorities instead of the pesticide industry.

But if citizens do not trust agrochemical companies to carry out research into products, then the Irish MEP believes that we as a society have to ask if we are willing to fund necessary research into plant and animal diseases and weed control systems from the public purse?

Most member states have moved away from adequately funding such research from the public purse.

“Would this give citizens more trust in the system? If the answer is yes, then we need to start the conversation on how this can be done – if it is practical and possible.

Dialogue not division is the only way forward, if we are to address the concerns of citizens and the needs of farmers,” she concluded.