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Malta calls for exit plan for controversial weedkiller

Demands new studies and measures

Glyphosate is considered a probable human carcinogen by the World Health Organisation cancer agency. Photo: Shutterstock

Glyphosate is considered a probable human carcinogen by the World Health Organisation cancer agency. Photo: Shutterstock

Malta and five other countries that opposed the reauthorisation of glyphosate are demanding new studies and measures “to limit the risks and prepare the exit plan” for the controversial weedkiller.

In a letter to European Commission first vice-president Frans Timmermans and Health Commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitis, environment ministers from Malta, France, Belgium, Greece, Luxembourg and Slovenia reiterated their concerns over the risks associated with glyphosate.

The widely-used substance, considered a probable human carcinogen by the World Health Organisation cancer agency, was approved for use in the EU for another five years in November, after months of indecisive votes.

Writing to the Commission, the six environment ministers noted that a European citizen’s initiative signed by more than one million people had called for a ban and that the European Parliament appealed for a phaseout by 2022.

They asked the Commission to carry out a study to identify all alternatives – chemical, mechanical or biological – to the agricultural use of glyphosate, as well as the changes necessary for these to be adopted by the farming industry.

The ministers also called for fresh studies to be conducted by European agencies in cooperation with national agencies of willing Member States, as well as the WHO, on the carcinogenic nature of glyphosate.

“We reaffirm our willingness to develop alternatives to the use of this substance by accompanying farmers in this process, to ensure a short-term exit of glyphosate and invite Member States that wish to associate themselves with this initiative to join us in a working group that France will put in place,” they added.

Malta consistently opposed efforts to renew the glyphosate licence, which was set to expire in December, and, prior to the vote, had called for a phaseout in the shortest possible timeframe.

Environment Minister Josè Herrera called the renewal “regrettable” and “a missed opportunity to send out a strong message that our environment and our health matters most”.

There is no scientific consensus on the safety of glyphosate.

The European Food Safety Authority and the European Chemicals Agency have both contradicted findings by the International Agency for Cancer Research that the substance is potentially carcinogenic.

However, the studies offering a clean bill of health were drawn into question after papers released in the USA revealed that the main producer of glyphosate, Monsanto, had been ghost-writing safety studies and unduly influencing regulatory authorities to support its continued use.

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