On Monday, the European Union voted to extend the license for glyphosate, the best-selling pesticide in the world, for use in the EU for another five years. Glyphosate is sold by most major agricultural input suppliers but is most associated with Monsanto, which markets it under the brand name Roundup.
The decision comes after weeks of votes and protests about the future of the controversial chemical in the EU, which has been far more skeptical than other parts of the world regarding glyphosate and the genetically-modified seeds created to resist it by Monsanto.
Glyphosate is controversial not only because of its link to genetically modified organisms, which have garnered intense public suspicion and also confusion, but also because a 2015 study by the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer that deemed it “probably carcinogenic to humans”. However, an October Reuters report alleged that the World Health Organization edited “non-carcinogenic findings” out of its 2015 report.
Without this license extension, Roundup would have gone completely out of circulation within the EU in three weeks – which some warned could have caused a farmers revolt. The decision has been well-received by farmers’ groups, but falls far short of the 15-year license extension proponents were originally seeking.
Opposition to the extension has largely come from environmental groups including Greenpeace EU, The Green Party, and Friends of the Earth Europe, among others.
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In favor of the decision was the UK National Farmers Union, EU farmers groups Copa, representing farmers from 56 countries, and Cogeca, representing 31 agricultural coops.
After the vote, Monsanto Europe tweeted, “Europe’s regulatory authorities completed a multi-year reassessment and found glyphosate is safe for use. Glyphosate has fulfilled all requirements for a fill 15-year renewal. There is no scientific basis for approving authorization for only five years.”
Ashley Fox, the European parliament’s conservative party leader, told the Guardian that the vote “simply prolongs the uncertainty for our farmers, who are being badly let down. They cannot plan for the future without long-term assurances about the availability of substances they rely on.” The process to renew the license yet again will restart in two years.
Adding further uncertainty, individual member states may still choose to ban glyphosate within their own borders. France plans to do this within three years according to President Emmanuel Macron. Belgium, Greece, France, Croatia, Italy, Cyprus, Luxembourg, Malta, and Austria were all opposed to the extension.
Makers of biological ag inputs, which often offer a way to decrease or eliminate the use of chemical inputs, told AgFunderNews that they are unphased by the recent machinations.
“From our viewpoint, it’s not surprising that the glyphosate license has been extended in Europe for another five years. Whatever one thinks about glyphosate or the use of chemical pesticides in general, it’s clear that the transformation of large-scale farming practices has to be gradual,” said Tom Laurita, CEO of New Leaf Symbiotics, a biological crop input startup based in St. Louis with funding from Monsanto’s VC arm Monsanto Growth Ventures.
Laurita, who expressed his support for reducing overall synthetic chemicals in the environment, added that since his products are formulated to be compatible with existing chemical pesticides, the vote is neither good nor bad news for NewLeaf.
Donald R. Marvin, CEO of Inocucor, also a biological stimulants producer for agriculture, agreed that this decision will have little bearing on the Candian company’s expansion into Europe. “We don’t view the business and regulatory environment of countries comprising that region as uncertain when it comes to farming. We are certain that Europe’s farmers are in need of environmentally friendly crop inputs just like our grower partners here in the Americas.”