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Irish government says it will follow expert guidance after Austria approves ban of controversial weedkiller

Austrian members of parliament earlier this week approved a total ban on glyphosate.

Image: Shutterstock/Dmitry Trubitsyn

THE IRISH GOVERNMENT has no plans to ban glyphosate, after Austria became the first EU country to approve a ban of the controversial herbicide.

Austrian members of parliament earlier this week approved a total ban on glyphosate, putting the country on track to becoming the first EU member to forbid all use of it.

Deputies voted in favour of a bill brought by the Social Democratic party to ban glyphosate products, suspected of causing cancer, as a “precautionary” measure.

The weedkiller has been closely connected with Roundup, a flagship product marketed worldwide by US giant Monsanto which was taken over by Germany’s Bayer in 2018.

Under fire for the takeover, the German company has vowed more “transparency” during the process of renewing the licence of glyphosate in the European Union.

In November 2017, EU states renewed the licence for the controversial weedkiller for another five years.

When its previous 15-year licence expired, an 18-month extension was granted while a deadlock in the EU dragged from June 2016, until Germany dropped its opposition to the pesticide.

Carcinogenic 

A 2015 study by the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) International Agency for Research on Cancer found that the herbicide glyphosate was classified as probably carcinogenic to humans, with a Group 2A classification.

Group 2A means that the agent probably has the potential to cause cancer in humans. This category is used when there is limited evidence of carcinogenicity in humans and sufficient evidence of carcinogenicity in experimental animals.

The EU’s executive body, the European Commission, pointed to the approval of glyphosate by its two scientific agencies, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and the European Chemicals Agency, which do not classify the substance as carcinogenic.

But the EFSA’s independence was questioned after media reports suggested that pages of its report were copied and pasted from analyses in a 2012 Monsanto study.

Ireland use

In Ireland, Dublin City Council last year announced that it will trial alternatives to the use of glyphosate as a weedkiller on streets and in parks in Dublin.

In a statement to TheJournal.ie a spokesperson for the Department of Agriculture said that decision on the approval of and use of pesticides are “based on the scientific consensus view of all the relevant technical information from all sources”.

The spokesperson referenced the EFSA and ECHA saying that both had concluded “that glyphosate can be used safely without putting consumers or users at risk”.

“This process guided the decision to renew the authorisation of glyphosate within the European Union in 2017,” the spokesperson said.

The process for further renewal will begin in December of this year, with a full dossier submitted to the Member States Assessment Group on Glyphosate (France, Hungary, the Netherlands and Sweden) by 15 June 2020.

“The Department will continue to monitor international peer-reviewed scientific evidence and the guidance provided by EFSA and ECHA,” the spokesperson said.

Roundup 

Roundup has been the subject of three costly judgements in California in recent months and is now the subject of more than 13,000 claims in the United States.

Among Austria’s EU partners, France said in 2017 it hoped to ban glyphosate within three years, but President Emmanuel Macron has since said such a move could not be “100%”.

Critics of the Austrian parliament’s decision say that it might be illegal under EU law for individual members to ban substances that have been approved for use by the union as a whole.

The Austrian vote was made possible by the fall of a conservative government in May that left a void pending anticipated elections in September.

An ad-hoc grouping of social democrats, the far-right FPOe, ecologists and liberals managed to pass the bill during the last week of the country’s truncated legislative session.

With reporting from AFP 

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Cormac Fitzgerald

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