The arguments to ban glyphosate pile up

Our #STOPGlyphosate Week can be closed with one main message: there is abundant scientific evidence that glyphosate can cause harm, and there are enough alternatives to end its use. Independent research points to its negative impacts on bees, soil health, aquatic life and biodiversity in general. The widespread use of the herbicide poses a threat to human health caused by genotoxicity, disruption of  the microbiome, potential neurotoxicity, liver damage and endocrine-disrupting properties. The EU food safety agency EFSA cannot simply overlook all this evidence and come up with a positive advice to expose EU citizens and nature to another 15 years of widespread use of glyphosate based herbicides. This would completely bypass the precautionary principle which is the foundation of the EU pesticide regulation.

Many EU citizens are very aware of the health and environmental risks of glyphosate. Over 1 million people signed the Ban Glyphosate ECI in 2017. The EU decision-makers at that time did not listen to citizens and let the billion euro’s industry interests prevail. However, they did limit the demanded permit from 15 to 5 years and also changed the EU law to make, the secret industry studies used to legitimise the authorisation available to the public. So now we know a lot more, on the eve of a new heated discussion on the renewal of glyphosate.

At the end of 2023, the EU will have to decide if glyphosate’s EU licence will be renewed. The chemical agency ECHA has already given the green light, bypassing many independent studies and scientific contributions. Now it is up to the food safety authority EFSA to come up with an opinion based on all relevant aspects to health and biodiversity. Next, it is up to the EU Commission to present a proposal and the EU Member States to decide. 

To make EU citizens and politicians aware of the dangers of glyphosate a crowdfunding for a new website was launched. “Once again we are calling EU policymakers to vote against the renewal of glyphosate and to stop turning a blind eye to the impacts this pesticide can have on human health and the environment. We will keep exposing the shortcomings of our regulatory system. For this, the members of the ECI and several other organisations have re-launched the coalition and have started a crowdfunding campaign with the same name “STOP glyphosate” to support creating a truly independent information website,” stated Dr Angeliki Lyssimachou of PAN Europe.


Independent research

In a conference on Alternatives to Glyphosate organised by the Greens in collaboration with PAN Europe in the European Parliament, Italian carcinogen expert Daniele Mandrioli, from the independent Ramazzini Institute, told about “the most comprehensive study ever performed on pesticides.”

In his speech he highlighted that the first preliminary results show various harmful health effects from glyphosate exposure at levels currently considered safe by European standards. Glyphosate exposure at doses considered safe  in Europe -at the Acceptable Daily Intake (ADI) level- triggered alterations in the microbiome, impacting beneficial gut bacteria and fungi. “When disrupted, many metabolic conditions, many diseases, have been connected with these alterations,” Mandrioli said. The evidence is “solid”, he said.

Among the observations were disruptions to the endocrine (hormonal) system, including increased testosterone levels in females exposed to glyphosate. The researchers found an “elongation of anogenital distance, which anticipates different potential problems” correlated with hormone imbalance in newborns that could impair development. 

Norbert Fraeyman of Ghent University said there was a “broad scientific consensus” that glyphosate is carcinogenic. “Glyphosate surely is a carcinogen, but it is much weaker compared to smoking cigarettes or [being exposed to] asbestos.” He also added that glyphosate is “an excellent herbicide” because it is very toxic to all plants but it should nevertheless be banned from use in agriculture. “Not only because it is a carcinogen, but because of [its] other toxic properties.”

“This pesticide is clearly genotoxic, clearly carcinogenic, it’s a clear endocrine disruptor. By European law, it should not be on the market. And that is very simple,” said Christopher Portier, a semi-retired carcinogenicity expert in the center of the years-long effort to ban glyphosate in both the EU and the U.S.


Safer alternatives for all major uses

According to Gergely Simon, Senior Chemicals Officer: “Glyphosate counting for 33% and increasing of the EU herbicide market, poses a risk not only to human health but to a variety of living organisms (e.g. pollinators, aquatic organisms, soil microorganisms etc.) and with that, it threatens biodiversity and the future of our agriculture. Agroindustry claims there are no viable alternatives - PAN Europe’s new report in collaboration with the European Greens shows that much safer non-chemical alternatives exist for all known major uses and how the transition to glyphosate-free agriculture is economically feasible.”

Conventional French Farmer Jean-Bernard Lozier explained how he managed to reduce 80% of his pesticide use. Many of his neighbours started doing the same and reduced 50% in just 2 years. His yield is a little bit lower but so are his costs. The profitability of his farm has not dropped. He stated he is happy, for he is investing in biodiversity, healthy soil and a good future. He has managed to phase out most uses of glyphosate without negative consequences.

US journalist Carey Gillam, author of the book ‘The Monsanto Papers’ told how far some chemical companies will go to protect their interests. Her book is about corrupted regulators that favour corporate science over independent research; the overwhelming amount of independent scientific evidence tying glyphosate to myriad health and environmental harms; and the devastation wrought on countless human lives. She wrote a nice blog about her visit to Brussels this time.

She also pointed to new research by top US government scientists published in January 2023, that found that farmers and farm workers exposed to glyphosate had elevated urine biomarkers that are linked to DNA damage and the development of cancer.


Into the Weeds - the leaf that didn’t die

Also in Brussels was Dewayne “Lee” Johnson, the California groundskeeper who sprayed large quantities of RangerPro, a highly concentrated version of Roundup, and had an accident while wearing protective gear. In 2014, following the accident he was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma, a type of blood cancer. The film Into the Weeds follows him and his fight for justice against Monsanto (now Bayer). Johnson’s case was the first to go to trial in a series of lawsuits involving tens of thousands of plaintiffs claiming Monsanto’s weed killer Roundup, or its industrial counterpart Ranger Pro, contributed to their cancer. 

The film follows this groundbreaking trial, while also stepping back to consider the systemic effects of the world’s most widely used herbicide. The film was screened in the Brussels UGS cinema to a packed house. Earlier the group visited the European Parliament.

It is a miracle of modern medicine that Johnson, father of two teenage sons, is still alive. Before the 2018 trial against Monsanto, doctors told him he would be dead within 18 months. Johnson told the audience “I’m the leaf that didn’t die”.

Still, he and his family have lost years of his life, struggling through immense pain and fear. His story is heartbreaking and the film gives a vivid picture of that. Carey Gilliam adds in her blog: “But he is only one of too many who have suffered and continue to suffer. In the months ahead, Europe has a chance to change that.”


Cinema Image

In an address opening the film, Anja Hazekamp, a Member of the European Parliament who supports a glyphosate ban, said the next months will be “crucial.” She called on the European Commission to “finally start protecting humans, animals and the environment.”

Accompanying the film to Brussels was scientist Chris Portier, a former director of the National Center for Environmental Health at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and a former director of the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. Portier participated as an invited expert during the World Health Organization’s cancer agency review of glyphosate in 2015 that classified glyphosate as probably carcinogenic to humans.

In Brussels, he told attendees to the film screening how regulators repeatedly have bent the rules to ignore or twist scientific findings in ways that allow them to keep glyphosate on the market. He reiterated what he has said countless times - that extensive scientific evidence ties the chemical to cancer. Portier has been an expert witness for plaintiffs in multiple lawsuits against Monsanto brought by people alleging they developed cancer due to Roundup exposure.


European Citizens Initiative

Europeans demanded the end of glyphosate and harmful pesticides in 2017. At that time a successful European Citizens Initiative (ECI) asked the European Commission and Member States to ban glyphosate. The recent successful European Citizens Initiative Save Bees and Farmers asks for an 80% reduction of synthetic pesticide use by 2030 and 100% by 2035. The European Biodiversity and the Farm to Fork Strategy oblige Europe to cut the use of chemical pesticides in half by 2030. These objectives cannot be achieved without banning glyphosate, the most widely used pesticide in Europe.

© Pesticide Action Network Europe (PAN Europe), Rue de la Pacification 67, 1000, Brussels, Belgium, Tel. +32 2 318 62 55

Pesticide Action Network Europe (PAN Europe) gratefully acknowledges the financial support from the European Union, European Commission, DG Environment, LIFE programme. Sole responsibility for this publication lies with the authors and the funders are not responsible for any use that may be made of the information contained herein.