In June 2018, pharmaceutical giant, Bayer AG, bought US agricultural business, Monsanto, for $63 billion.
Frequent readers of BC Disease News will be aware of ongoing product litigation, predominantly in the US (but also Canada and Australia – read our article, here), where thousands of claimants have alleged that use of glyphosate-containing herbicide, including Monsanto’s best-selling herbicide, Roundup, has caused them to develop non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
(Source: Flickr – Mike Mozart (30 April 2016): ‘Roundup, Monsanto’)
In defence of these claims, Bayer has consistently relied on:
‘... the consensus among leading health regulators worldwide that glyphosate-based products can be used safely and that glyphosate is not carcinogenic, and the 40 years of extensive scientific research on which their favourable conclusions are based’.
In November 2017, EU member states voted in favour of extending licensing of glyphosate in the single market for a shorter-than-usual, 5-year term (expiring on 15 December 2022), after World Health Organization (WHO) agency, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), classified the chemical as ‘probably carcinogenic to humans’ (Group 2A).
In spite of multilateral agreement, Austria took the initiative, in July 2019, to instigate an outright national ban. In edition 279 (here), we reported that a Bill had been passed in the Austrian Lower House of Parliament, with the support of Social Democrats, the Freedom Party and NEOS. Opponents of the Bill branded the policy as ‘pure populism’.
Elsewhere in Europe, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Italy, Malta, the Netherlands, Portugal, Switzerland and municipalities in France and Spain have imposed varying levels if restrictions on sale/use. We also discussed the precautionary approaches adopted by various British local authorities, in edition 270 (here).
Most recently, Germany, the country of Bayer’s incorporation, announced that by the end of 2023, glyphosate will be banned.
On Wednesday of this week, the German Government presented its plan of action, or ‘policy roadmap’, to gradually phase out use. According to this document, from 2020 onwards, glyphosate application will be banned in public areas (e.g. city parks), private gardens and farmlands (pre-harvest, pre-sowing and post-harvest). What is more, glyphosate treatment on grasslands and orchard meadows, as well as along river and lake shores, will be met with restrictions.
The impetus behind Germany’s unilateral decision is not speculation over harm to human health through primary exposure, but growing concern among biologists over plummeting insect populations, which hinders species diversity and damages ecosystems by disrupting natural food chains and plant pollination – these events pose an indirect impact on human populations.[i]
‘What harms insects also harms people’, explained Social Democrat Environment Minister, Svenja Schulze.
In reaction to the latest political development, the German Chemical Industry Association has criticised its Government for ‘embarking on a confrontation course with European law’.
Elsewhere, Bayer considers that the decision ignores ‘the overwhelming scientific assessments of competent authorities around the world’, which supports the view that glyphosate is safe. Further, that it will eliminate ‘an important tool for ensuring both the sustainability and productivity of agriculture’.[ii]
The share price rose by 1.8% in Frankfurt, on the day that the new policy was broadcasted, but stock has fallen in value as the week has progressed.[iii]
Graph: Bayer AG Share Price
(Source: Hargreaves Lansdown)
[i] Agence France-Presse, ‘Germany to ban use of glyphosate weedkiller by end of 2023’ (4 September 2019 The Guardian) <https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/sep/04/germany-ban-glyphosate-weedkiller-by-2023> accessed 5 September 2019.
[ii] Andreas Rinke, Michelle Martin, Madeline Chamber and Louise Heavens, ‘Germany to ban use of glyphosate from end of 2023’ (4 September 2019 Reuters) <https://uk.reuters.com/article/us-germany-glyphosate/germany-to-ban-use-of-glyphosate-from-end-of-2023-idUKKCN1VP0TY> accessed 5 September 2019.
[iii] August Graham, ‘Germany plans to ban Roundup weedkiller in 2023’ (4 September 2019 City AM) <https://www.cityam.com/germany-plans-to-ban-roundup-weedkiller-in-2023/> accessed 5 September 2019.