Roundup herbicide debate divides Portugal’s left wingers

Three motions pushing for Portugal to ban a herbicide that the World Health Organisation has said “is probably carcinogenic to humans” fell flat in parliament yesterday – despite the issue being backed by the European Parliament last month.

With a public petition now underway and busily collecting signatures, campaigners’ hopes hinge on a vote to be taken by the European Commission in 12 days time.

As national media has explained, the current licence for herbicide ‘glyphosate’ – a key ingredient in best-selling weed-killers like Roundup (produced by Monsanto), Rodeo (Dow) and Touchdown (Syngenta) – expires in June.

Already a vote taken in Strasbourg has called for strict new limits in any kind of relicensing – thus negotiators are working overtime to try and come up with concessions.

The motions put forwards by minority parties Os Verdes, PAN and Bloco de Esquerda saw centre-right PSD and CDS-PP members vote against, with the PS abstaining.

Expresso explains that the “only point of the proposals presented which ended up being approved unanimously was point 3 of the bid by PAN which called for a programme of analysis of surface water to verify the presence of glyphosate residues”.

This is the fear (and indeed case purportedly backed by evidence) of anti-glyphosate campaigners: that the potentially-harmful substance could pose serious risks to public health and the environment.

According to US alternative health website Mercola.com, glyphosate “recently earned the ominous title of the most heavily used agricultural chemical of all time” and laboratory testing has revealed that it is “showing up everywhere” – even in breastmilk.

The Portuguese petition stresses that “reports and scientists have already affirmed there is a link between this herbicide and other health problems, autism and the presence of this herbicide in genetically modified foods”, while the WHO report “suggests an association between glyphosate and non-Hodgkin lymphomas”.

Explaining the PS abstention, a government source said agriculture minister Capoulas Santos did not want to be “stuck to a position” but hopes instead to have “some negotiating weight at the upcoming meeting of European agricultural ministers in June”.

Meantime, pro and contra glyphosate scientific studies will be debated when the EU pesticides committee convenes on May 18-19 to consider the resolution passed by MEPs in parliament last month calling for a ban on the use of glyphosate in public parks, playgrounds and gardens, and the restriction of any new licensing to seven years, as opposed to the more customary period of 15 years.

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