Recently, I devoted an entire column to the fact that science was finally coming back to the forefront of the long-running debate on the safety of glyphosate. Unfortunately, given recent events across the pond in Europe, this enthusiasm that “rational thinking” was returning to the industry might end up being short-lived.
To review a bit, the past year has seemed at times to represent one long, fairly well-coordinated attack on the agricultural market’s most popular herbicide. With U.S. jury verdicts going in a favor of plaintiffs who claim regularly using Roundup weed killer (the trade name for glyphosate originally marketed by Monsanto and now Bayer) for years caused them to develop non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma – and being awarded millions or billions dollars in damages – the number of lawsuits against Bayer has skyrocketed. At last count, more than 18,000 such cases were moving their way through the courts. Furthermore, in many cities across the country, law firms are now advertising on local television stations looking for more plaintiffs to sue Bayer/glyphosate, in the same way asbestos used to be targeted for causing cancer back in the day. To me, all this “piling on” glyphosate seemed tied strictly to emotion, with much of the science behind the herbicide’s safety being pushed completely into the background.
But a measure of some science sanity finally appeared early in August. At that time, the EPA sent out a letter saying that the agency would no longer approve product labels for glyphosate that claimed the product was “known to cause cancer.” EPA said these labels did not meet the requirements of the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide & Rodenticide Act.
“It is irresponsible to require labels on products that are inaccurate when EPA knows the product does not pose a cancer risk,” said Administrator Andrew Wheeler in the letter. “It is critical that federal regulatory agencies like EPA relay to consumers accurate, scientific-based information about risks that pesticides may pose to them.”
For the most part, the agricultural industry hails this news. In fact, in an online poll conducted by CropLife magazine shortly after the EPA letter was made public, 88% of respondents believed this kind of “science-based win for glyphosate” would be something of a “turning point” for the herbicide’s future fortunes.
However, the science behind glyphosate’s safety has taken another potential hit, from a most unlikely source. In early September, the German government announced it had passed legislation to ban the use of the popular herbicide within its borders by 2023. According to the German Cabinet, the country agreed to the ban as part of its insect conservation program. “What harms insects also harms people,” said Environment Minister Svenja Schulze in a released statement. “What we need is more humming and buzzing.”
Now as a country, Germany has a great reputation for science and scientific endeavors. In fact, the Nobel Prize has been awarded to 108 German scientists. Notable German scientists include Hans Geiger, inventor of the Geiger counter, Wernher von Braun, developer of the space rocket, and Albert Einstein.
Given this fact, it should bother almost everyone who embraces science that glyphosate, which is scientifically classified as a herbicide, should be banned for “harming insects” by a scientific-oriented country such as Germany (let alone any country).
This all just proves once again that the long fight over glyphosate’s safety being waged across the globe is far from over.