15 April 2016

The European Union and glyphosate: an illustration of one of the principles that govern our society

While the European Commission had proposed to renew the authorisation of glyphosate for a period of 15 years, the European Parliament has just passed a non legally biding resolution requesting an authorisation limited to 7 years only and with the utilisation of this chemical limited to an agricultural use, excluding its usage by private individuals and local authorities. It is worth reminding here that glyphosate, an industrially produced chemical, is the basic active ingredient of Monsanto’s Roundup, one of the most popular herbicides, the authorization of which expires in Europe in June. Initially the resolution envisaged the non renewal of the authorisation of glyphosate, but on the ground that “there is no alternative way of combating weeds to propose to farmers that is economically viable and safe for human health”, European parliamentarians adopted an amendment limiting the authorisation to a period of 7 years. Indeed for years, Monsanto has been communicating that Roundup is a “safe” herbicide that has less effects on the environment than its competitors.

However, several studies have proven in the past that glyphosate impacted negatively on the environment and on health. For example in 2013, a study by two US researchers, one from the respected MIT, published in the journal “entropy”, stressed the presence of glyphosate in food and that it generated a “negative impact on the body [that] is insidious and manifests slowly over time as inflammation damages cellular systems throughout the body”. One of the authors of the study underlined that they “have hit upon something very important that needs to be taken seriously and further investigated”. Other studies have also demonstrated the effect of glyphosate on human and livestock health. In March 2015, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) had categorised glyphosate as “probably carcinogenic”. But a few months later, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), whose independence towards the industry has often been considered doubtful, declared glyphosate “improbably carcinogenic”.

In this confused context, one could have expected that the European Parliamant would refer to the principle of precaution or at least, in the worst case, would have added to its decision of temporary authorisation of glyphosate a minimum of two recommendations: (i) that independent research be conducted on glyphosate to analyse its effects on health and the environment, and (ii) that resources be earmarked to fund agricultural research for finding non-polluting and sustainable alternatives to glyphosate. But the Parliament only recommended a better dissemination of the results of research conducted by companies selling glyphosate-based products, which evidently can be suspected of biais. By the way, this recommendation was rejected by industrialists grouped under the Glyphosate Task Force. It is therefore quite likely that we will be exactly in the same situation 7 years from now, the same arguments being again likely to lead to the decision to extend once more “temporarily” the authorisation of glyphosate. Another objectionable characteristic of this resolution is that it discriminates between, on the one hand, private individuals and local authorities who are protected and, on the other hand, farmers who are left free to put their health at risk.

This story is quite representative of a situation that we have described in our article entitled “Food, Environment and Heath” that showed that our food system implied a rapidly increasing amount of industrially produced chemicals that we aborb and that are disseminated in nature without us knowing in a reliable way what effects these substances could have on our health and on the environment. Studies that we quote in our article have  however clearly demonstrated the huge cost the use of synthetic pesticides had for society.

The decision of the European Parliament illustrates once more the principle of “privatising profits, socialising costs” that our political leaders willingly adopt, probably under the “amicable pressure” of industrialists and that has been best and most knowningly illustrated by the handling of the 2008 financial crisis. But the food scandal that we can see unfold before our eyes, year after year, decade after decade, also generates outrageous private profits for a few, while creating huge social costs for all.


To know more:

  1. -Platiau, C., EU parliament votes to re-approve glyphosate despite ‘concerns about carcinogenicity’, Reuters, 13 April 2016

  2. -Samsel, A. and S. Seneff, Glyphosate’s Suppression of Cytochrome P450 Enzymes and Amino Acid Biosynthesis by the Gut Microbiome: Pathways to Modern Diseases, Entropy 2013, 15, 1416-1463

  3. -Reuters, Heavy use of herbicide Roundup linked to health dangers-U.S. study, 2013

Earlier articles on related to the topic:

  1. -Food, Environment and Heath, 2014

  2. -Fourth principle for ending hunger: Development of research, 2013

  3. -Nano-pesticides: opportunity or new risk?, 2015

  4. -In the US, the industrial food and agriculture sector spent hundreds of millions on communication to influence the media, consumers and policy. What about in Europe?, 2015


Last update:    April 2016

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