sexta-feira, 27 de maio de 2016
How German politics pushed Roundup into the weeds
How German politics pushed Roundup into the weeds
Controversial Monsanto weedkiller could be pulled from shelves after German deadlock.
By GIULIA PARAVICINI 5/28/16, 6:31 AM CET
German government squabbling could see the world’s best-selling weedkiller off the shelves, force farmers to scramble for alternatives and land the European Commission in court.
It’s all part of a row over glyphosate — a pesticide used in the weedkiller Roundup, made by Monsanto and used by farmers to clear fields before planting crops.
Its license for use in Europe is up for renewal but environmental groups want it banned after seizing on comments from a World Health Organization panel report that suggested it is a “probable” cause of cancer.
A subsequent WHO committee ruling that the chemical is safe in small amounts in food, and backing from the Commission’s food safety agency, has not changed the minds of green NGOs.
But it is deadlock in the EU’s biggest member state that’s causing the biggest headache for those pushing for renewal, with the German environment and agriculture ministers at loggerheads and refusing to back down.
“The Commission knows the German coalition government cannot bear the political cost of opting for renewal … it could break the already fragile alliance,” an EU official close to the talks said.
Glyphosate’s EU authorization expires on June 30, and the Commission proposed a 15-year renewal period earlier this year. After fights with the European Parliament, which requested a shorter time period and other amendments, officials came up with a last-ditch compromise — a one- to two-year renewal period.
But hours before member countries had to submit a response to the European Commission’s plan, Germany’s environment minister issued a statement making her position clear.
“NEIN,” began a long statement issued on Tuesday by Barbara Hendricks, a member of the Social Democratic Party, the junior partner in the coalition.
“The SPD ministers — and I emphasize all SPD ministries — have … decided to say NO over the re-approval of glyphosate, as long as the health risks are not fully clarified,” it said.
That effectively killed any hope that Hendricks and the agriculture minister would resolve their differences. If they don’t and glyphosate is banned, the Commission’s fear is a multi-million euro lawsuit from industry.
Politics vs science
German Agriculture Minister Christian Schmidt, of the Christian Social Union, the Bavarian sister party of Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats, backs the renewal and accused the SPD of putting politics over science.
“I absolutely do not understand the backflip of my colleagues,” Schmidt said, adding that all of the environment ministry’s demands had been incorporated into new draft regulation.
“The choice of the SPD has not a scientific or a technical explanation, it’s pure political logic,” Hermann Färber, a CDU MP in charge of agriculture in the Bundestag, told POLITICO.
But Susanne Melior, a German SPD MEP, said electoral politics play “no role whatsoever” when it comes to glyphosate.
What can’t be disputed, however, is that the SPD is suffering a slump in support, with parliamentary elections next year. A Forsa poll on Tuesday put support for the SPD at 20 percent, down from nearly 26 percent at the last election.
NGOs such as Greenpeace still point to the WHO panel report that called the pesticide a probable cause of cancer.
“This is the second time the Commission has failed to get the backing of EU governments for the re-approval of glyphosate,” Greenpeace EU food policy director Franziska Achterberg said after a second vote was scrapped because a qualified majority, needed for approval under EU rules, could not be reached.
“This is no surprise, since the Commission has continued to ignore the concerns of independent scientists, MEPs and European citizens. It’s time for the Commission to change course.”
A later WHO report saying there are acceptable levels that make it safe in food is flawed, according to some other green groups, because it doesn’t consider exposure for rural residents who live near crops sprayed with glyphosate.
No plan B
Back in Brussels, things are not looking good for the weedkiller’s renewal after member countries let a Wednesday deadline for a deal pass.
The Commission is running out of options. According to EU sources it is considering holding a vote on renewal anyway, despite knowing that it won’t get the backing it needs, and passing the issue on to an appeals committee.
The stalemate has led to a panic in the Commission’s Brussels HQ, according to sources, with frantic meetings and calls between the cabinets of President Jean-Claude Juncker and Health Commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitis.
The pesticide industry’s Glyphosate Task Force says politics has overtaken the entire process.
The situation is “discriminatory, disproportionate and wholly unjustified,” Richard Garnett, chairman of the group, said in a statement. “Ultimately, failure to follow the process appropriately and within a reasonable timeframe will only serve to seriously undermine the credibility of the EU legislative framework and put European agriculture at a competitive disadvantage.”
This article has been updated to clarify that some NGOs, not Greenpeace, make the argument about exposure of rural residents to glyphosate.