The U.S. Battle over Glyphosate Has ‘Old World’ Roots
Although it’s been in use since 1974, glyphosate has come under intense attack here in the U.S. just recently. Much of this seemingly stems from the California jury verdict against the herbicide this summer that found in favor of a plaintiff who claimed glyphosate exposure gave him cancer. The jury award in the case, originally $289 million in damages, has since been reduced to $78 million. Even with this smaller amount, the award will undoubtedly be appealed by glyphosate’s current owner, Bayer. And several thousand more such lawsuits are in the legal pipeline, waiting to come to trial.
Yet, many market observers will point out that this questioning of glyphosate’s safety in the New World can be traced back to the Old One, specifically Europe. This was made clear during a special briefing on glyphosate held by Bayer as part of its Future of Farming Dialogue 2018 event in Dusseldorf, Germany, in September. As Bill Reeves, Regulatory Policy and Scientific Affairs Manager for Bayer, told attendees, the war on glyphosate in Europe goes deeper than just distrust of an herbicide.
“This is a political molecule,” said Reeves. “It’s not only a symbol of Monsanto, it’s a symbol of modern agriculture. In the U.S., it’s become a way to drive concerns among consumers about GMO [genetically-modified organism] use. Consumers may not fully understand what GMOs are, but when you bring up the chemicals used to grow them, in this case, glyphosate, that’s an attention-grabbing ploy that has worked.”
Another speaker at the event, Guy Smith, Deputy Director of the National Farmers Union in the United Kingdom and a grower, agreed with this view. “This is all about GMOs,” said Smith. “Glyphosate is a political molecule, and it’s being attacked to keep GMOs out of Europe. It’s amazing to me that other more dangerous chemicals, which are more harmful in smaller doses, don’t come under the same scrutiny that glyphosate has.”
Across Europe, Smith said he has encouraged all the groups interested in protecting glyphosate – the companies that produce it, scientists who have studied its safety, and the growers themselves – to speak out in its defense. Still, given his position, most of these efforts have focused on the growers. “It’s important that farmers demonstrate that they are using pesticides professionally,” said Smith. “Routine use of glyphosate pre-harvest, just in case, is bad farming. Farmers should always have sound agronomic advice before using any product.”
Smith added that the fight to protect glyphosate use must be a priority, on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean and across the globe. “If we lost glyphosate, we would lose the battle against many, many weeds,” he warned. “We must take the campaign against glyphosate seriously because if we end up having it banned, anything we use in farming could end up being banned.”