Will glyphosate remain in use?

The EU member states are grappling over the issue of whether to relicense the weedkiller glyphosate, which is suspected of causing cancer in humans. Time is pressing as the current license expires on December 15. Commentators warn that consumer protection must be taken seriously and that the debate about the pros and cons of a ban should be transparent.

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Aamulehti (FI) /

When in doubt, ban it

When in doubt, excessive caution is better than recklessness, Aamulehti warns:

“Glyphosate is a controversial poison that is suspected of causing cancer. Nevertheless different authorities take differing views of it. You can approach the problem in two ways: either you can ban it if it's proven to be hazardous or you prove that it's safe. Common sense dictates that it's better to be safe than sorry if there's cause to believe that something is dangerous. Then later there's nothing to be sorry about.”

Die Presse (AT) /

Food more costly but better minus glyphosate

The impact on prices and quality also needs to be discussed in the debate about banning the use of glyphosate, stresses Die Presse:

“The only logical alternative is a return to mechanical methods for working the soil. That would be less effective in the short term and a likely side-effect would be lower crop yields. However, this would also be paired with crop rotation which increases the quality of produce and fodder. ... Ultimately that means consumers will have to be prepared to accept higher prices. A better life has its price. Anyone who doesn't use [weedkiller] Round-up in their garden or on their balcony and removes the weeds by hand instead can experience that first hand.”

Le Monde (FR) /

EU Commission increasing democracy deficit

The EU Standing Committee on Plants, Animals, Food and Feed on Thursday postponed its decision on the relicensing of the weedkiller glyphosate. The Commission's inability to act on such an important issue is appalling, Le Monde fumes:

“It's unacceptable that this body has refused to take and impose a decision on a subject that concerns the entire EU population. For three years now the Commission has confiscated all discussion on the matter. The extreme complexity of the dossiers dealt with in Brussels has prevented the public from getting involved. What's more, in this way highly political issues have been depoliticised. This inability to integrate scientific achievements into the political decision-making process once more highlights Europe's democracy deficit.”

Handelsblatt (DE) /

Europeans uphold consumer protection

In the vote on whether to relicense glyphosate the EU should think carefully about whether it really wants to ruin its reputation for protecting consumers, the business daily Handelsblatt warns:

“One approach in politics is to license products only once it has been ascertained beyond doubt that they are not harmful. For this reason products are subject to comprehensive pre-market launch testing and then licensed by the authorities. That's how consumer protection works in Europe. … For the European Commission this is a minefield. In the negotiations on the TTIP free trade pact all too often it has come under suspicion of lowering EU consumer standards to the US level. The fierce protests have shown that the Europeans set great store by consumer protection. In the vote on glyphosate the governments should bear this in mind. Relicensing it for just another year would perhaps be a good compromise.”

Zeit Online (DE) /

Lack of trust in politics and science

Glyphosate is more than just a pesticide whose impact on people's health is controversial, the liberal portal Zeit Online stresses:

“Glyphosate has long been a symbol of the distrust felt by environmental organisations and many people regarding the negotiation process between governments, politicians and scientists in the EU. ... Luckily, however, the representatives of certain EU member states were clever enough to prevent the European Commission from confirming such - often irrational - scepticism with its politically insensitive approach. ... The Commission wanted to grant its approval on the basis of excessively lax requirements, although the scientific controversy over the health risks is far from over.”

Süddeutsche Zeitung (DE) /

Agricultural hyper-production must stop

The debate about glyphosate must be about more than just the herbicide itself, the centre-left daily Süddeutsche Zeitung argues:

“Those who focus solely on the weedkiller's impact on people's health are overlooking the really big issue: the long overdue revolution in the agricultural sector. … The physical battle waged by man and machine against pests and weeds costs money, time and revenues. And companies can't afford this. So what should be done? A ban may satisfy the needs of individuals to feel protected against nebulous risks, but it only postpones the problems that need addressing. And it doesn't resolve all the problems that farming and breeding livestock entail. It has been clear for years that at some point the hyper-production in this sector will reach the boundaries of responsible production and make an agricultural revolution absolutely essential.”