• Will the European Union ban glyphosates over water quality concerns?

Water Quality Monitoring

Will the European Union ban glyphosates over water quality concerns?

Sep 09 2023

The tug-of-war over the herbicide glyphosate's fate within the European Union (EU) recently gained another layer. Despite widespread concerns, the European Commission has granted glyphosate an extension for use up to the end of 2023, pushing its earlier expiration from December 15 of this year. 

This move came after the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) indicated a delay in finalizing its risk-assessment process till at least mid-2023. These conclusions by EFSA, which were initially expected to be delivered this September, play a pivotal role in shaping the stance of both the Commission and the EU member states on whether to continue endorsing the herbicide's usage. 

Glyphosate's contentious nature traces back to its previous reapproval in 2017. Despite being seen as a vital tool for agricultural practices, a cloud of suspicion looms over its potential health hazards. Critics argue that its correlation with cancer, alongside its adverse impact on a spectrum of organisms, from insects to marine invertebrates, can't be overlooked. Echoing this, the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) recently highlighted glyphosate's non-carcinogenic status, while also pointing to its toxicity to aquatic life and potential to inflict serious eye damage. 

The contention is not limited to health risks alone. A report revealed a disconcerting finding: glyphosate was detected in surface waters across 11 European nations. Such widespread contamination, especially during the supposed 'low season', accentuates concerns about the chemical's omnipresence. Given these startling revelations, it's no surprise that groups like the Pesticide Action Network Europe are rallying for an outright ban on glyphosate to protect both water quality and the broader ecosystem. 

Moreover, some of the water samples from nations like Austria, Spain, and Portugal indicated glyphosate concentrations unsuitable for human consumption. With glyphosate and its primary metabolite AMPA found in numerous river samples across Europe, the risks to aquatic ecosystems become hard to ignore. 

With member countries remaining divided, unable to reach a consensus during recent voting sessions, the Commission felt compelled to prolong glyphosate's authorization. This extension ensures glyphosate's presence in the European agricultural landscape until the end of 2023, with the anticipation that EFSA will share its conclusive findings by then. 

The narrative around glyphosate, first introduced by Monsanto and now managed by Bayer, has been rife with debates. The recent EFSA announcement declaring its safety for farming did bring some relief to sectors of the agricultural industry. However, environmental advocates continue to challenge such proclamations, pointing to potential industry biases. 

Several independent studies have drawn attention to glyphosate's potential environmental repercussions. The "Stop Glyphosate" campaign, backed by a coalition of NGOs, is demanding a ban on this chemical. Adding weight to this call is the World Health Organization's IARC classification of glyphosate as a probable human carcinogen. 

As the contention continues, the European Commission and its member states find themselves at a crossroads. The coming months will demand a balancing act, weighing the herbicide's agricultural significance against potential environmental and health ramifications. The decision, ultimately, will shape the EU's agricultural and environmental trajectory for years to come. 


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