Austria becomes first EU country to ban glyphosate weedkiller
Austria has voted to ban glyphosate, the main ingredient in Bayer-Monsanto’s notorious Roundup weedkiller, becoming the first EU country to outlaw the chemical, creating a PR disaster for the troubled German company.
“The scientific evidence of the plant poison’s carcinogenic effect is increasing. It is our responsibility to ban this poison from our environment,” Social Democratic Party leader Pamela Rendi-Wagner said in a statement on Tuesday. The resolution passed with the cooperation of her party, the right-wing Freedom Party and the liberal Neos Party, and remains only to be signed by President Alexander van der Bellen, a former Green Party leader, unless the upper house of parliament objects.
“We want to be a role model for other countries in the EU and the world,” said Erwin Preiner, another Social Democrat MP who worked on the ban. Austria has embraced organic farming more than any other European country – nearly a quarter of its farmland is organic – and is thus not a major market for glyphosate-based herbicides, using only a few hundred tons per year. While a ban will have minimal direct impact on Bayer’s sales, the optics of the German company’s next-door-neighbor nation exiling its flagship herbicide are likely to cause a few headaches at Bayer HQ.
Austria’s Ministry for Sustainability and Tourism claims that a total ban on glyphosate violates EU law, as the chemical is cleared for sale and use across the EU until 2022, but the bill’s backers have pointed to other examples of individual countries banning specific chemicals as proof of their right to legislate against the herbicide. France banned Roundup Pro 360, one type of Monsanto’s popular glyphosate weedkiller, earlier this year, and President Emmanuel Macron has pledged to phase out the use of glyphosate entirely within three years.
“National bans on glyphosate-based plant protection products or restrictions on their use would be possible,” the European Commission declared in 2016, confirming that “the EU states do not have to hide behind the European Commission” in deciding whether or not to ban a particular formulation of a herbicide.
A spokesman for Bayer’s crop science unit condemned the decision as possibly “inconsistent with mandatory legal and procedural requirements and scientific reasoning.”
The World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer classified the substance as a likely human carcinogen in 2015. While some regulators, including the US Environmental Protection Agency, disagree, a body of evidence has surfaced that appears to show the agency’s “regulatory capture” by Monsanto, including emails from EPA scientists seeking guidance from Monsanto execs on how to minimize the appearance of cancer in lab animals exposed to Roundup. Local US authorities, including New York and Los Angeles, have banned glyphosate in public parks, and California added the chemical to its list of known carcinogens in 2017.
Bayer’s stock prices plunged to a seven-year low last month after a California jury handed a couple $2 billion in their lawsuit against the company, the third suit won by non-Hodgkins lymphoma sufferers who blame Monsanto’s Roundup for their cancer. With over 13,000 more lawsuits pending, Bayer is likely to see its fortunes fall still further, and retrospectively question the wisdom of last year’s decision to buy the agrochemical giant for $63 billion.
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