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Carcinogenic Herbicide: Europe is Hassled, Ukraine Keeps Silent

Date of publication: 15 December 2017

Olena Omelchenko, Head of International Trade Practice

Source: European Pravda

A week ago the French Government took a very difficult decision. Despite the demonstrations of farmers who blocked the Champs-Elysees as a mark of protest, the French Government announced that it had banned the use of glyphosate – a weed killer – after 2022, and requested the Ministry of Agriculture to develop a plan of gradual switching to other herbicides.

In addition, the Government plans to conduct a full study of the market of herbicides used by the French farmers.

The issue of a possible ban is regularly discussed in the European Commission and many swords have been crossed on it

The decision of Paris is not precedential, the same ban was earlier imposed in Germany. However, the common position of the two largest EU economies is capable of finally changing the mood in Europe.

And this will definitely affect Ukraine. Even in spite of the fact that we prefer to leave the issue of glyphosate untouched.

Glyphosate-related disputes

The substance called glyphosate is a main component of the well-known Round Up herbicide, produced by the American agrochemical giant Monsanto.

This herbicide has long been in the purview of scientific institutions responsible for food safety. Its widespread popularity is attributed to its unique biological function – it neutralizes all plants, except for the crops grown from the genetically modified highly productive varieties of seeds adapted to it.

Thus, by buying the herbicide and the seeds adapted to it the agrarians increase their crop yields by several times. Undoubtedly, it returns superprofits to the producers of herbicides and seeds, as well as to the agrarians using them.

In March 2015 a group of experts from the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), forming part of the World Health Organization, concluded that the use of glyphosate may contribute to the ‘probable’ development of cancer in humans. However, the agency reported that meanwhile there is scant evidence that glyphosate is carcinogenic and causes cancer.

These findings of the expert group roused the whole world and caused sharp reactions in different countries since the ultimate recognition of glyphosate as a carcinogen will not only mean a ban on the use of this herbicide, but will also affect the production of and trade in genetically modified products worldwide.

These issues were actively discussed in the media, by the expert community, government agencies and international organizations.

Some experts believe that the foodstuffs, personal hygiene products, clothing and other products made from genetically modified cotton can lead to endocrine system disorders and cancer. Other experts believe that the scandal surrounding glyphosate is a consequence of competition for international markets.

In many countries the agrarians protest against the restrictions on glyphosate, realizing that this will affect the crop yields and reduce their competitiveness as compared to producers who grow their crops in other countries, where the glyphosate is allowed.

However, any restriction on trade in glyphosate-treated crops is contrary to the maximum allowable level of residues established by the Codex Alimentarius, and leads to serious problems on the part of exporters and importers, and potentially contradicts the agreements of the World Trade Organization. Therefore, such bans can be further appealed to the WTO Dispute Settlement Bodies.

The United States and Argentina have already initiated discussions within the WTO Committee on Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures concerning the extent to which the IARC findings can be considered a sufficient scientific rationale for imposing restrictions on the use of glyphosate.

What is the world’s reaction?

The issue of the glyphosate safety is still unresolved and stirs up controversies in many countries.

South Korea, Colombia and Brazil decided to restrict the use of glyphosate.

In 2016 the Russian Federation adopted a law banning the cultivation and breeding of genetically engineered plants and animals in the country, except for the scientific needs.

The USA, Japan and New Zealand conducted additional studies, the results of which refuted the conclusions about the existence of any cause and effect relationship between the use of glyphosate and the development of cancer.

But the European Union has not yet taken its final decision.

The period of validity of the license for glyphosate expired in the middle of this year, and the European Commission has temporarily extended it till the end of 2017, until the European Chemical Agency completes the revision of the study.

At the same time, the European Commission provided a number of recommendations to Member States on the use of glyphosate, namely: to minimize the use of harvested crops and to cut down on the use of substance in public parks, playgrounds, gardens, etc. However, Germany has imposed temporary restrictive measures for the use of glyphosate, and now France has done the same.

Meanwhile, the Union for Environment and Nature Protection (BUND) launched a campaign called the European Citizens’ Initiative against Glyphosate, in which in a short period of time it managed to collect over million and three hundred signatures under the petition calling to reduce the use of pesticides and to reform the process of their approval in the EU. Thus, by the end of this year the European Commission shall decide whether or not to extend the license for glyphosate until 2031.

However, it is already clear that this issue requires an independent in-depth study by each country individually.

And what about Ukraine?

And for the Ukrainian Government the glyphosate problem does not seem to exist at all.

This conclusion may be reached considering the fact that issue of glyphosate use is not discussed at all, and the official position of the public authorized bodies is unknown to the society.

Yet that’s not all. The information from the State Register of Pesticides and Agrochemicals, certified for use in Ukraine, demonstrates that from the moment of publication of the IARC experts’ conclusions the Ministry of Natural Resources has additionally registered a number of glyphosate-based herbicides.

It is worth recalling that according to Ukrainian legislation the possible receipt of previously unknown information about the dangers of the preparation or the insufficient biological effectiveness of its intended use are listed among other reasons to deny registration and re-registration of the preparation. The IARC experts’ conclusions can well be the case.

Not taking into account the IARC experts’ conclusions on the hazardous properties of glyphosate, the Ministry of Natural Resources of Ukraine, at the same time, does not initiate its own studies for their rebuttal.

It appears that our State does not care about the problems hotly debated in Europe and in the world, and, probably, about the health of the nation as such.