Glyphosate: The key points in an endless debate

The European Union is deciding about the future of glyphosate — a controversial herbicide that may be linked with cancer. DW offers an overview on the most important points of the debate.

Despite warnings over potential risks to human health and the environment, farmers around the world are dependent on chemical giant Monsanto's herbicide Roundup. Active ingredient: glyphosate.

Nature and Environment | 09.11.2017

In June 2016, European Union member states delayed a final decision on renewal for the weed killer, instead extending the license for 18 months. In October and November 2017, the European Commission again pushed back a vote on the issue.

The European Commission must make a decision, as the current license is due to expire on December 15. Although the European Commission on Food Safety had been pushing for a 10-year renewal of the license for glyphosate, this has been pedaled back to a five-year renewal.

While many EU member countries support continued use of glyphosate, countries like France have already announced plans to oppose the license renewal. In previous meetings, large member states such as Germany have been undecided.

Nature and Environment | 10.11.2017

The debate over weed killer glyphosate has been raging for years.

In 2015, the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classified the herbicide as "probably carcinogenic." Yet in 2016, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) said glyphosate is "unlikely" to cause cancer

Glyphosate is the world's most widely-used herbicide. In Germany alone, farmers treat about 40 percent of arable land with it. Glyphosate undeniably increases the efficiency of farming — and traces of it have been detected in many foods, from ice cream to beer.

However, critics argue that risks are too high. A Danish farmer in Europe alleged that glyphosate caused his piglets to be born with deformities; in countries like Argentina, experts have blamed cancer, miscarriage and deformation in humans on glyphosate.

Environmentalists also point out potential harmful effects of glyphosate on biodiversity and ecosystems.

Some compare the powerful agrochemical lobby behind glyphosate with that of tobacco. In the same vein, they argue that Monsanto has manipulated scientific studies upon which regulatory bodies base their decisions.

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In any case, the controversy is far from over.

Over the past years, DW has been closely following the decision-making process on the future of glyphosate, and presented all the different positions on the debate - including how a future without glyphosate might look like. 

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Ice cream

Glyphosate has been found in Ben & Jerry's ice cream samples from France, Germany, the Netherlands and the UK, according to a report by the Health Research Institute (HRI). The weed killer is used on crops such as oats and wheat — ingredients used in the Unilever-owned brand's products. The attested quantities could be a health risk, says the US-based Organic Consumers Association.

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When glyphosate is used to kill weeds on fields of wheat, barley or rye, it can find its way into bread, buns, cakes, cookies or any other baked goods. That's how the herbicide ends up in your Ben & Jerry's cookie dough ice cream.

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Take corn flakes. Yes, exactly, they are made from field crops too. Food activists last year found that cereals such as Cheerios and Kellogg's Cornflakes contained traces of glyphosate and called the finding "alarming." Still, it's not entirely clear how and when during the production process the weed killer gets into your breakfast cereals.

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It is clear, though, how glyphosate gets into our water. In the water? Indeed! When the weed killer is used on cultivated fields, it seeps into the groundwater, rivers and lakes. And this way, it turns up not only in our food, but also in beverages ...

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like the world's most popular chillaxing drink — beer. Several studies have shown small amounts of glyphosate in the beverage made from grains and water, although the most dangerous thing about beer may still be the alcohol content.

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And whoever, at the end of this list, believes it's okay to smear some honey on what is hopefully a glyphosate-free organic roll, is likely to be unhappy. Flowers that attract bees, and that grow near fields sprayed with glyphosate, are likewise affected, and could turn your sweet hopes into something fairly bitter.

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