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glyphosate protest

Pesticide opponents across the continent have urged the European Union to ban glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto's popular weedkiller RoundUp. (Photo: Europe FRANCE 24/@EuropeF24/Flickr)

Ahead of EU Glyphosate Vote, Greenpeace Demands Nothing Less Than Total Ban

Environmentalists celebrate parliament's vote for outright ban while warning against executive arm's proposed compromise

Jessica Corbett

Hours after the European Parliament adopted a non-binding resolution on Tuesday calling for a full ban of glyphosate-based herbicides within five years, Greenpeace heralded the vote while blasting a subsequent proposal by the European Commission that would extend the toxic weedkiller's license.

Greenpeace Europe called the parliament resolution "a breath of fresh air," but also issued a warning about the commission's proposal to shorten the term of glyphosate's license, calling it "a fudge that changes nothing about how much people are exposed and how much the environment is contaminated."

The parliament, which is composed of elected representatives of the European Union (EU), voted for a ban on  glyphosate—the active ingredient in Monsanto's RoundUp, and the most commonly used herbicide in the world—to influence the EU's 28 member states, which will vote Wednesday on the license renewal.

The commission had initially proposed a 10-year renewal. However, amid growing concerns from the World Health Organization (WHO) and others that glyphosate could cause cancer, the license renewal decision has been hotly contested.

The parliament's resolution—which was adopted by 355 votes to 204, with 111 abstentions—calls for the EU to renew the license for five years, with a complete ban by Dec. 15, 2022 alongside an immediate ban on household use as well as "for farming when biological alternatives (i.e. 'integrated pest management systems') work well for weed control."

In response to the  resolution, a spokesperson for the European Commission, the EU's executive arm, announced Tuesday that its top officials "asked our representatives to explore...if broad support is structured around a period of renewal of five to seven years."

The developments on Tuesday followed a petition—signed by 1.3 million Europeans—calling on the EU to ban glyphosate that was delivered to the comission on Monday, as part of the European Citizens' Initiative, which only advances initiatives that garner support from at least a million EU citizens from seven member states.

The conflict was inflamed last month when it was revealed that Europe's food safety watchdog—which, in contrast to the WHO, concluded that glyphosate is safe—relied on a review that lifted language from a Monsanto report, raising concerns that the agency failed to properly analyze the pesticide's potential dangers.

Under threats of lawsuits from the chemical industry and farmers' associations, member states are split in their stated positions ahead of the vote, as the Guardian reports:

France is resisting a new 10-year licence. Spain is in favor. Germany is in coalition talks and likely to abstain. The UK would normally push for a new lease of the licence but is less engaged due to Brexit. There may not be a qualified majority for any outcome.

Environmental groups that have pressured the EU to ban glyphosate outright offered mixed responses to the actions on Tuesday, cautiously celebrating the parliament's resolution while warning that the commission's shortened license term proposal does not go far enough.

"The European Parliament has correctly acknowledged the magnitude of glyphosate's risks," said Nathan Donley, a senior scientist with the Center for Biological Diversity. "Now European regulators charged with protecting human health and the environment must follow the parliament's brave leadership and phase out the gross overuse of glyphosate."

"This wasn't just a vote against glyphosate," Donley added. "This was a vote supporting independent science and a vote against an industry that has manipulated, coerced and otherwise soiled independent decision-making in Europe and the rest of the world."

Natacha Cingotti, health and chemicals policy officer at the Health and Environment Alliance, also welcomed the parliament's vote while also stressing, "During tomorrow's discussions in the pesticides committee, we continue to sound the alarm and ask member states to let citizens' health be the guiding light, and agree on a full-phase out plan for glyphosate as soon as possible."

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