Brexit and toxic weedkillers, bad for Britain's health

Brexit and toxic weedkillers, bad for Britain's health

March 23rd, 2019

At the end of last year, I wrote to Michael Gove calling for a ban on the weedkiller glyphosate after a new study revealed the harm it causes to our already precarious bee populations.

The most widely used pesticide isn't just harmful to bees, though. It has been classified as 'probably carcinogenic' to humans by the World Health Organisation (WHO) too.

Monsanto, the world's biggest glyphosate producer, in fact, was recently forced to pay out a record £300m in compensation to a US man who developed cancer after being exposed to their ubiquitous, glyphosate-containing, weedkiller, Roundup. A separate jury in the US found, just this week, that the weedkiller caused a second man’s cancer.

Despite pressure from Green MEPs and the European Parliament, glyphosate remains approved for use across the EU. For that, we can thank the strong lobbying efforts of the government's of some European countries, like the Conservatives in the UK.

The governments, in hock to huge agribusiness lobbyists, based their objections to a ban on glyphosate on a European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) report which refuted a link between glyphosate and the risk of cancer in humans.

The crucial difference between the WHO and EFSA is that the former only bases its scientific assessments on studies that have been subject to the rigours of being published in peer-reviewed scientific journals. EFSA, on the other hand, used unpublished studies, to which it has consistently refused to provide public access.

This is particularly important because the legal cases against Monsanto in the US have shown how the firm has tried to rig studies and manipulate regulators into approving its glyphosate-based products, including by ghost-writing studies and then convincing academics to sign their names as authors.

Greens believe that scientific studies used to evaluate the effects of pesticides should always be public, as a matter of principle. That's why we took EFSA, who have been backed int he case by Monsanto, to the European Court of Justice (ECJ) to force them to reveal the contents of the secret studies.

Earlier this month, we won. The ECJ ruled that EFSA must publish all studies around the cancer risks of glyphosate. The ruling was a victory in the fight against secrecy when it comes to the environmental and health risks of dangerous products such as glyphosate.

Subject to public and, perhaps more importantly, scientific scrutiny, we will see just how flawed the case for continuing to use cancer-causing chemicals as part of an environmentally-destructive industrial farming process is.

Greens in the European Parliament are optimistic this will be the final nail in the coffin for glyphosate in the EU, protecting our vital pollinators and human health in one fell swoop.

However, in the UK, Environment Secretary Michael Gove's response to my letter, and Natural Environment and Biodiversity Minister Therese Coffey's outspoken support of Monsanto over and above people suffering with easily preventable cancers, suggests that Britain is going to be stuck with Monsanto's toxic chemicals, should Brexit proceed as planned.

The latest available stats show that more than 2,000 tonnes of glyphosate-containing pesticides are currently sprayed on crops across the UK annually.

Brexit and toxic weedkillers, bad for Britain's health

Brexit and toxic weedkillers, bad for Britain's health

March 23rd, 2019

At the end of last year, I wrote to Michael Gove calling for a ban on the weedkiller glyphosate after a new study revealed the harm it causes to our already precarious bee populations.

The most widely used pesticide isn't just harmful to bees, though. It has been classified as 'probably carcinogenic' to humans by the World Health Organisation (WHO) too.

Monsanto, the world's biggest glyphosate producer, in fact, was recently forced to pay out a record £300m in compensation to a US man who developed cancer after being exposed to their ubiquitous, glyphosate-containing, weedkiller, Roundup. A separate jury in the US found, just this week, that the weedkiller caused a second man’s cancer.

Despite pressure from Green MEPs and the European Parliament, glyphosate remains approved for use across the EU. For that, we can thank the strong lobbying efforts of the government's of some European countries, like the Conservatives in the UK.

The governments, in hock to huge agribusiness lobbyists, based their objections to a ban on glyphosate on a European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) report which refuted a link between glyphosate and the risk of cancer in humans.

The crucial difference between the WHO and EFSA is that the former only bases its scientific assessments on studies that have been subject to the rigours of being published in peer-reviewed scientific journals. EFSA, on the other hand, used unpublished studies, to which it has consistently refused to provide public access.

This is particularly important because the legal cases against Monsanto in the US have shown how the firm has tried to rig studies and manipulate regulators into approving its glyphosate-based products, including by ghost-writing studies and then convincing academics to sign their names as authors.

Greens believe that scientific studies used to evaluate the effects of pesticides should always be public, as a matter of principle. That's why we took EFSA, who have been backed int he case by Monsanto, to the European Court of Justice (ECJ) to force them to reveal the contents of the secret studies.

Earlier this month, we won. The ECJ ruled that EFSA must publish all studies around the cancer risks of glyphosate. The ruling was a victory in the fight against secrecy when it comes to the environmental and health risks of dangerous products such as glyphosate.

Subject to public and, perhaps more importantly, scientific scrutiny, we will see just how flawed the case for continuing to use cancer-causing chemicals as part of an environmentally-destructive industrial farming process is.

Greens in the European Parliament are optimistic this will be the final nail in the coffin for glyphosate in the EU, protecting our vital pollinators and human health in one fell swoop.

However, in the UK, Environment Secretary Michael Gove's response to my letter, and Natural Environment and Biodiversity Minister Therese Coffey's outspoken support of Monsanto over and above people suffering with easily preventable cancers, suggests that Britain is going to be stuck with Monsanto's toxic chemicals, should Brexit proceed as planned.

The latest available stats show that more than 2,000 tonnes of glyphosate-containing pesticides are currently sprayed on crops across the UK annually.

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