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Total Ban on Glyphosate in Austria Adopted

Published: July 4, 2019; 19:53 · (Vindobona)

Austria is the first country in the European Union to ban the use of the controversial weedkiller glyphosate. The ban is legally controversial and could contradict EU law.

Controversial weedkiller glyphosate: Based on media reports and some controversial studies on possible health hazards, an intensive public and scientific debate has developed over the years. / Picture: © Wikimedia Commons / Stephan Tournay [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)]

A majority in the National Council approved a proposal by the Social Democrats (SPÖ).

The People's Party (ÖVP) spoke of a "slap in the face of farmers who use the active ingredient properly".

The pesticide glyphosate is suspected of causing cancer in humans.

A proposal by the SPÖ for a general ban on glyphosate in the sense of the precautionary principle was accepted by the National Council without the votes of the People's Party.

An ÖVP initiative aimed at banning glyphosate in public areas and for non-professional use, however, remained in the minority.

Amendments were tabled to both motions to take account of the EU's obligation to notify.

ÖVP fears market disadvantage for Austrian farmers

The ÖVP could not gain much from a general ban on glyphosate. Its members fear a competitive disadvantage for Austrian farmers.

For Georg Strasser (ÖVP) there is often a lack of objective discussion on the subject. Instead, farmers are presented as "poison splashes" even though they produce high-quality food. Karl Schmidhofer (ÖVP) followed suit. Klaus Lindinger (ÖVP) emphasised that the competitiveness of Austrian farmers must be strengthened by, for example, applying the same standards to imported products as to regional products. The application for a partial ban on public land and non-professional use submitted by the ÖVP, which finally remained in the minority, took into account the confidence in farmers to be able to use glyphosate properly.

According to Strasser and Lindinger, a total ban on glyphosate could be contrary to EU law. They referred to the recently presented results of a feasibility study commissioned by the Ministry of Sustainability.

The results would also show that there was no increased health risk from glyphosate, but that the active substance could even contribute to soil improvement and climate protection.

In addition, there is a lack of suitable alternatives for agriculture.

SPÖ enforces general glyphosate ban NOW with support from FPÖ, NEOS and Liste

Erwin Preiner (SPÖ) was unable to identify any lack of alternatives to glyphosate, which were available in sufficient quantities using biological, mechanical or thermal means.

Organic agriculture must be further developed, he said, since health is the greatest good that must also be protected for future generations.

While the renunciation of glyphosate is a major challenge for farmers, Cornelia Ecker (SPÖ) emphasised that organic farmers are a good example of how alternative pesticides can be used.

For Maximilian Unterrainer (SPÖ), agriculture without the use of glyphosate to strengthen organic production is conclusive insofar as Austria advertises organic food. As glyphosate can also be carried by the wind on organic land, Preiner and Unterrainer also believe there is a risk that organic farmers could lose their certification. Markus Vogl (SPÖ) is convinced that the glyphosate ban will further increase the quality of local products and provide consumers with the certainty that regional products are also healthy.

For Wolfgang Zinggl (NOW) it is clear that there is a connection between diseases and glyphosate. With the glyphosate ban, civil society, which cares about health and the environment, is asserting itself against corporations that would make double profits from the sale of glyphosate and the sale of resistant plants. Zinggl, like the SPÖ MEPs, criticised the ÖVP, which would recognise a certain harmfulness with its proposed partial ban on glyphosate, but at the same time oppose a general ban.

By the prohibition of Glyphosat FPÖ agriculture speaker walter smoke saw the work of its parliamentary group confirmed. The Freedom Party had always advocated a ban. The argumentation, according to which a general prohibition is "hostile to farmers", could smoke little gain. However, he admitted that this ban would require compensatory measures - such as a labelling obligation for foreign products - to be created for farmers so that they would not suffer a competitive disadvantage. He invited the other groups to jointly develop such measures by autumn.

Karin Doppelbauer (NEOS) considered it similar to the ÖVP and said that a general ban on glyphosate is currently problematic under EU law.

She therefore spoke of a "difficult decision" when she signalled the agreement of her parliamentary group to both motions.

In view of the latest scientific research, the subject of glyphosate must be discussed further and the pressure must be kept high so that framework conditions for alternatives in agriculture are created. Austria's farmers must not support the political decision to ban glyphosate in the form of competitive disadvantages, said Doppelbauer.

Background

Glyphosate is a chemical compound from the group of phosphonates.

It is the biologically active main component of some broad-spectrum and total herbicides and has been marketed by Monsanto since the second half of the 1970s as an active ingredient under the name Roundup for weed control.

It has been the most important herbicide ingredient in the world in terms of volume for years.

Glyphosate products are sold by more than 40 manufacturers.

Glyphosate is used in agriculture, horticulture, industry and private households.

It is non-selective against plants, which means that all plants treated with it die. Exceptions are crops that have been genetically modified to have herbicide resistance to glyphosate. The glyphosate products offered differ in some respects.

Compared to other herbicides, glyphosate usually has lower mobility, a shorter lifespan and lower toxicity to animals. These are usually desirable properties for agricultural herbicides.

Based on media reports and some controversial studies on possible health hazards of glyphosate, an intensive public and scientific debate has developed over the years.

From 2015 onwards, the discussion intensified noticeably. A European citizens' initiative with almost 1.1 million valid signatures called for a ban on glyphosate.

The reason for this was the fact that glyphosate was to be re-approved in the EU at the end of 2017 and that the IARC International Agency for Research on Cancer had assessed it as "probably carcinogenic" for humans.

This assessment was contradicted by other authorities and organisations, including the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), which took over the assessment of the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR).

The Joint Meeting on Pesticide Residues (JMPR) of the World Health Organization (WHO), USEPA, Health Canada and the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) also assess the substance as non-carcinogenic.