The European Union approves the herbicide Glyphosate by another five years.
Posted on November 28th, 2017

Chandre Dharmawardana , Canada.

After deliberations that lasted almost a month, and months of preliminary review at various levels, the European Union countries have votes over-overwhelmingly to extend the use of the controversial herbicide Glyphosate. Monsanto and many other agro-chemical companies sell the product since the original Monsanto patent expired decades ago . It has been used in Sri Lanka in significant amounts since 2000 and banned in 2015.

Various formulations of glyphosate have been used in European countries for over four decades without any substantiated cases of ill health. Nevertheless, public fear of environmental contamination and ill-effects on health have been stridently voiced against this herbicide, mainly because of its essential role in the cultivation of genetically modified (GM) crops. The public fears GM foods were called to question even as recently as July 4th 2016 by some 100 Nobelist scientists writing to the Washington Post. They  endorsed GM, while asking Green” militants and NGOs  to not to spread fake news.

On the other hand, a petition with 1.3 million signatures, and  e-mail initiatives (e.g., by change.org” with some 292,000 signatures)  had been delivered to the European parliament months before the deliberations. Many green” NGOs and political parties had  submitted their opposition to glyphosate. However, the main-stream scientific opinion has been strongly in favour of the continued use of glyphosate as one of the  safest available herbicides. The regulatory bodies like the WHO and the FAO support  the continued use of glyphosate formulations in industrial agriculture, and explained that the public has misunderstood the reclassification of glyphosate as a class-II carcinogen. This implies no health risk but the recognition of a possible hazard.

Normally, the decisions regarding matters like herbicides are made by a technical committee on agriculture appointed by the EU. However, from time to time, policies are set by the European parliament which may take decisions that bind the expert committees.  Many of the early votes of the EU in fact supported a ban on the herbicide when the votes were taken, but several key countries stayed non-committal and abstained  from the vote. The German chancellor Angela Merkel is herself a chemist by training. When the last round of voting came about, her  agriculture minister Christian Schmidt had taken the decision that abstaining is not a valid policy. Germany supported  the extension of the use of glyphosate by five more years. The clear German position  influence other states to also say  Ja”, although France and Greece continued with a Non”. The  experts of the European union had of course been in favour of the continued licensing of the herbicide. Now that the political masters have given approval, the Greens and others foes of GM crops will have to wait for another five years to begin their rounds of   collecting signatures, sending out petitions, and creating websites and emotional internet documents against the herbicide, claiming   links between agri-business, government and big science”.

Already, Martin Hausling, the Green-party representative in Brussels has declared this to be a true scandal”, even while German political parties are trying to build a broad coalition under Merkel for a new government. The green” politicians in Europe claim that glyphosate may cause cancer, and that although this is not proven, it should be banned on the basis of what is often called the  precautionary principle”. The farmer  trade unions and  agriculturists  strongly oppose any ban on glyphosate as the production of so-called organic agriculture” cannot  meet beyond 1% of the needed food supply. Most European governments have agriculture ministers who accept this position, while also simultaneously  having minsters of the environment” who claim to be in agreement with the majority of the public who don’t want chemicals” in their food, while living in a stew of automobile pollution and electronic gadgets containing cadmium, nickel, lead, mercury etc. In practice, for most governments, the agriculture mister’s view prevails over that of the minster of environment.

In Sri Lanka, the situation has been more complex, or truly voodoo, to say the least. The decision to ban gypohosate was taken in the wake of the 2015 presidential elections, at the instigation of Ven. Ratana and his followers in the JHU who backed Mr. Sirisena’s candidacy. Ven. Ratana’s had been initially influenced by the claim that God Natha communicated the cause of CKDu through a medium. The reason for banning is not the possibility that glyphosate (if ingested in extremely large quantities) could cause cancer, but the claim that it has actually triggered an epidemic of chronic kidney disease (known as CKDu) among paddy farmers in the dry zone. However, the analysis of blood, urine and other bio-samples of kidney patients have not detected any glyphosate in 97% of the patients. The main-stream view of scientists and experts on kidney diseases  is that  farmers who drink stagnant well water possibly containing hard water and fluoride  may be causing the disease. A newspaper article (Daily News, 9-March 2017)  by Dr. Tilak Abeysekera, a leading Nephrologist reviews the many possible causes.  CKDu has not appeared among other  users of agrochemicals or even among paddy farmers in other parts of the country. Many other articles on the topic may be consulted at http://dh-web.org/place.names/posts/#ckdu.

Given that glyphosate seems to have nothing to do with CKDu, and given that no GM crops are cultivated in Sri Lanka giving no tangible basis for opposition to GM,  there is no reason for Sri Lanka to rush to ban the herbicide. The effect of the ban, taking its toll over the last two years has been catastrophic on all agricultural sectors. The continuing drought that came in about the same time has made matters worse.  A vast network for smuggling in black-market glyphosate as well as dangerous illegal alternatives has grown to satisfy some of pent up the demand. The appeals of the leaders of the badly-hit tea industry could not be ignored by the agriculture minster who appointed a commission. The report of the commission, based on views of experts as well as those opposed to glyphosate has been handed over to the President and to the Prime minster.

However, unlike in the EU where the processes, however contentious, end in a decision, things don’t happen so easily in Sri Lanka where we have a Kafka’s castle. Matters like herbicides and the fate of agriculture are of no importance for a government whose energies are trapped in avoiding elections, facing bond-scam investigations, re-writing constitutions to please its political backers, and trying to unleash arrests of major political opponents mainly as a bid to stay in power. Everything is Aes Bandum” or acts of political illusion”. Surely, how many major  commission reports have been presented to the government, and how many have been acted on?  The government is like an inept juggler who is juggling with swords and knows that one of them is about to fall on him any time soon.  So, can we expect it to worry about a mere herbicide.

Perhaps if this  government gets to know that the young doctor who was the main proponent of the claim that glyphosate causes CKDu  was also a speaker at the recent Anuradhapura rally of the Joint Opposition, then it might act!  Commission money and political vengeance, rather than science and rational considerations  may be the few things that make our successive governments to act.

2 Responses to “The European Union approves the herbicide Glyphosate by another five years.”

  1. Christie Says:

    Is this stuff responsible for the emerging sicknesses of the digestive System?

  2. Cerberus Says:

    Please see the article below which is extensive.

    http://www.greenpeace.org/eu-unit/Global/eu-unit/reports-briefings/2017/20170303%20BR%20glyphosate%20timeline.pdf

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