The suspense will have stretched until the last moment. Glyphosate will ultimately be authorized for another ten years. This Thursday, November 16, representatives of the member states of the European Union did not find agreement on the proposal to renew the controversial herbicide. In the absence of a qualified majority from member states, the decision fell to the European Commission, which announced that it would authorize it for the next ten years.
France confirmed that it had abstained again this Thursday. The government had warned: if the European Commission did not modify its text on the renewal of glyphosate, presented to the vote of the Member States for the first time on October 13 without obtaining a qualified majority, it would abstain again. But on France Info, Wednesday November 15, the Minister of Agriculture, Marc Fesneau, still believed in modifications to the European proposal: “We are waiting for the final elements of the Commission’s proposal, (…) it is at the last moment that things sometimes come to a head.”
The European Commission’s proposal was considered unsatisfactory for France, which called for more harmonization at European level, in particular by banning the use of glyphosate in cases “for which there are non-chemical alternatives that can be implemented without major economic or practical disadvantages”, as is already the case in France in cemeteries and SNCF tracks. Even though the effects of the pesticide on organisms and living beings remain unknown, France also called for an evaluation methodology. “risks for biodiversity and ecosystems”.
The vote of Germany, which had also abstained during the first vote even though its Minister of Agriculture, Cem Özdemir, had initially announced that he would oppose the European proposal, also was decisive.
Since taking office, the Minister of Agriculture Marc Fesneau has defended a position that is intended to be pragmatic. Judging that the molecule has been on the market since the 1970s – and whose use has become widespread to the point of making it the first herbicide sold in France – can be “useful” in certain situations, he repeats that farmers have already reduced their dependence on the pesticide. The agricultural world highlights the “technical impasses” which would prevent him from doing without it completely. The substance has been the subject of intense scientific controversy for years. In 2015, when Europe was already in the middle of a debate on its renewal, it was classified “probable carcinogen” by the WHO. In 2021, a collective expertise carried out by Inserm, highlighting “strong presumptions of links between certain pathologies and exposure to pesticides”, notably established an increased risk between the use of glyphosate and certain types of cancers, such as non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
If the NGO Pesticide Action Network Europe (PAN), which condemns the Commission’s proposal for renewal, welcomed in a press release the absence of a qualified majority on today’s vote, seeing “an important sign of Europe’s growing concerns about the dangers of this pesticide”, French associations criticized the French abstention. For Future Generations, “this position is a betrayal, unsurprisingly, of the promise made by the President of the Republic in 2017.”
Updated November 16 at 10:30 a.m. with the authorization of the European Commission, then at midday with French abstention and reactions from NGOs.
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