Pressure to ban glyphosate is intensifying this week with a hearing in the European Parliament on the Citizens’ Initiative, signed by over 1.3 million people from across the EU, including over 11,000 Irish.
Speaking before the hearing began in Brussels, Monday evening (20th November) Mairead McGuinness MEP and first Vice-President of the European Parliament said the Citizens’ Initiative, points to concern and distrust of the current regime of herbicide and pesticide regulation.
The Citizens’ Initiative calls for a ban on glyphosate to protect people and the environment from toxic pesticides.
“Our own regulators are also being questioned and disbelieved,” McGuinness said.
“This is deeply alarming and extremely disruptive of the system of regulation currently used in the EU and by member states.
“On glyphosate, both ECHA (European Chemicals Agency) and EFSA (European Food Safety Authority) have said glyphosate is safe to use as recommended and is not carcinogenic.
“However in the ongoing and sometimes emotional debate on agrochemicals, it is clear that minds are made up to be either for or against and that there is little room for balanced discussion.
“One of the ambitions of the Citizens’ Initiative is ‘achieving a pesticide-free future’.”
This impasse is bad for everyone, McGuinness warned as it creates unnecessary uncertainty and unnecessary fears.
“It also ignores the very important work being done by farmers to address questions of soil fertility, climate action and reduced use of chemicals for both environmental and economic reasons.”
She said many farmers are concerned about their own sustainability as farmers and crave knowledge and information about how to tackle environmental issues, including biodiversity.
“This trend at farm level is welcome and necessary and gives power back to farmers as land managers to be more in tune with the complexity of farming systems.
“However, what they are calling for is a coherent research and advisory system which aides them to make the transition.”
“For tillage farmers who practice minimum cultivation, glyphosate is an important tool which is used sparingly and appropriately,” she said. “An immediate ban would force these farmers back to ploughing and spraying with other products and would work against everything they have done to date.
“What is needed is some balance in the debate, where we question inputs used and work for reductions as appropriate but do not resort to simplistic bans.”
The petitioners call for the scientific evaluation of pesticides for EU regulatory approval to be based only on published studies, which are commissioned by competent public authorities instead of the pesticide industry.
Ms McGuinness said if citizens do not trust agrochemical companies to carry out research into products, then we as a society have to ask if we are willing to fund necessary research into plant and animal diseases and weed control systems from the public purse?
“Most member states have moved away from adequately funding such research from the public purse.
“Would this give citizens more trust in the system? If the answer is yes, then we need to start the conversation on how this can be done, if it is practical and possible.”
McGuinness visited farmers at the weekend who operate min-till systems using green cover and other management techniques to manage weeds and pests.
“It is clear that this system is working for soil fertility, biodiversity and climate. And the farmers involved are passionate about the potential.
“Their greatest concern, which I share, is that a blanket ban on glyphosate will deny them one of the tools of their business without proposing other options and will undo the good work and positive results of their farming system.
“Dialogue not division is the only way forward if we are to address the concerns of citizens and the needs of farmers,” she concluded.