Herbicide linked to cancer faces new European deadline

Glyphosate – the controversial ingredient in so many herbicides used in Portugal today – is up against a new European deadline.

The European Commission was due to decide whether or not to extend glyphosate’s licence last Thursday. The vote went ahead with 36.5% of countries voting in favour. But a decision has been delayed until the end of the month.

As TSF radio explains, Portugal is the European country that most uses the product that the World Health Organisation (WHO) has cited as a “probable cause of cancer in humans”.

The issue with this compound is complicated – and only recently saw Reuters news agency reveal that “significant changes” to the WHO findings were effected “between a draft of its report and the published version”.

“In each case, a negative conclusion about glyphosate leading to tumours was either deleted or replaced with a neutral or positive one. Reuters was unable to determine who made the changes”, said the agency.

Needless to say, studies in Portugal have shown that the country has the highest amounts of this broad spectrum systemic herbicide in both its soil and in citizens’ urine.

Worst affected areas, says TSF, are vineyards in the Bairrada region in the centre of the country.

Elsewhere it is used by large and small producers, marketed under various names and in various quantities.

Eleven environmental NGO’s and agricultural entities – including Quercus, the League for the Protection of Nature and the Confederation of Agriculture – challenge the basis for the authorisation, saying it is “unthinkable” that glyphosate should continue to be used “in agriculture, streets and even for domestic purposes”.

TSF stresses that since the beginning of the year, the government has banned the use of products containing glyphosate in public spaces – but environmentalists contend this doesn’t preclude its eventual leakages into groundwater.

As one told the station, the percentage of glyphosate found in volunteers’ urine suggests the Portuguese population could already be running at an exposure on average 20 times higher than that of Germany.

If the EC does sanction the extension of glyphosate’s licence, it will be sanctioned for general usage in Europe for another five years.

According to Público, Portugal opted to abstain in last week’s vote, which saw positive votes from Denmark, the UK, Ireland, Spain, Hungary, Slovenia, Slovakia, Finland, Estonia, Lithuania, Sweden, Latvia, the Czech Republic and the Netherlands.

Nine member states voted against, and five, including Portugal, Poland and Bulgaria, abstained.

To approve the continued use of glyhosate, the EC has to see “a majority of 55% of Member States that represent 65% of the population of the EU” vote in favour.

Público adds that glyphosate can be found in “more than 300 herbicides” in Europe, marketed by “around 40 different companies”.

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