French minister seeks to restrict weed killers

Ecology Minister Ségolène Royal has asked garden stores to stop selling herbicides containing glyphosate, such as Monsanto's flagship weed killer, Roundup.

Remy de la Mauviniere/AP
Crocuses blossom at the foot of the Eiffel Tower in Paris, March 3, 2009.

If Ecology Minister Ségolène Royal has her way, amateur gardeners in France will no longer be able to purchase weed-killers containing glyphosate, citing health concerns.

"France must be offensive on stopping pesticides," Royal said of the herbicides on French television, according to Reuters.

In a March report, the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer concluded that glyphosate was “probably carcinogenic to humans.”

Originally developed in the 1970s by Monsanto under the name Roundup, glyphosate has been available in generic forms after the company's last commercial patent expired in 2000. Roundup remains the world's most widely used weed-killer, according to the IARC.

The IARC study said glyphosate is most commonly used in agriculture, as opposed to gardening. The study showed “limited evidence of carcinogenicity” in humans and “sufficient evidence of carcinogenicity” in laboratory animals.

Monsanto, a frequent target of environmental and anti-GMO protests, has pushed back against the IARC classification. The company told Reuters in an email, “Under the conditions recommended on the label, the product does not present any particular risk for the user.”

Monsanto also released a statement criticizing the report. It said, “Relevant, scientific data was excluded from review. IARC received and purposefully disregarded dozens of scientific studies – specifically genetic toxicity studies – that support the conclusion glyphosate is not a human health risk.”

The IARC did acknowledge in the report that the US Environmental Protection Agency classified glyphosate as having “evidence of non-carcinogenicity” in humans in 1991. But it also pointed to other studies showing that the chemical caused chromosomal and DNA damage in human cells, was linked to non-Hodgkin lymphoma in humans exposed to it, and had strong carcinogenic results in laboratory animals.

Citing these other studies was also a problem for Monsanto, however. The statement criticized the IARC for simply summarizing the existing research without contributing any new information. “There is no new research or data here. Each of the studies considered by IARC have been previously reviewed and considered by regulatory agencies,” the statement said.

Royal’s announcement follows a request from the French consumer association CLCV that glyphosate products no longer be sold to amateur gardeners in Europe, Agence France-Presse reported.

In May, German state consumer protection ministers proposed an EU-wide ban on glyphosate-based herbicides, according to Global Research. The German government, however, did not act on the resolution, a choice Global Research attributed to the stake German companies Bayer and BASF hold in the GMO agriculture industry.

France’s move against glyphosate is part of a bigger plan to remove pesticides from home gardens by 2022, Reuters reported. Starting in 2018, gardeners would no longer be able to buy plant protection products in regular garden stores; they would have to purchase them through certified vendors.

"If the measure was to enter into force before Jan. 1, 2018 it would be welcome progress," French environmental group Generations Futures said in a statement.

[Editor's note: An earlier version overstated the scope of Ms. Royal's proposed restrictions and neglected to note that they would apply to all herbicides containing glyphosate, not just Roundup. The Monitor regrets the error.]

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