Chemical giant under pressure over US lawsuits

The active ingredient glyphosate is still used in Europe.

Photo: AFP / Jean-Francois Monier

It seems the days of the total herbicide glyphosate are numbered. The Plant Protection Application Ordinance has been in force in Germany since Wednesday, according to which the agricultural poison may only be used to a limited extent. The use of glyphosate directly before harvest, in water protection areas and biosphere reserves, in nature reserves, national parks and grassland and forest in special protected areas is therefore prohibited. With exceptions: Glyphosate may continue to be used on “erosion-prone areas” or when “problematic weeds” are to be controlled. From now on, an »application ban« also applies to houses, allotment gardens, parks as well as playgrounds and sports fields, but glyphosate-containing agents that are still approved for these areas may continue to be used. After weeks of dispute in the coalition, the ordinance passed the Federal Council at the end of June.

There was also a coalition conflict in 2017 when the decision was made to extend the approval at EU level. Although the Union and the SPD had agreed to abstain in the EU Council, the then Federal Minister of Agriculture Christian Schmidt (CSU) voted for further approval.

Today the Ministry of Agriculture continues to argue: A total ban is not possible under European law, as the active ingredient is still approved throughout the EU until the end of 2022. However, further approval seems unlikely, even if several EU testing authorities reaffirmed the active ingredient in June of this year as being neither carcinogenic nor otherwise harmful.

But the European market is nowhere near as interesting for Bayer AG as the American one. Bayer has been confronted with numerous lawsuits in the United States for several years. The company has recently appealed to the US Supreme Court in Washington. The Supreme Court is to examine the appeal of the Hardeman case, in which a federal appeals court in San Francisco had sentenced Bayer to around 20 million euros in damages. Plaintiff Edwin Hardeman has cancer; he had used the glyphosate compound Roundup for years.

According to Bayer, the revision is based on two reasons: For example, the admission of experts as witnesses on the plaintiff’s side did not meet federal standards. That led to “unfounded statements”. In addition, “the allegedly necessary cancer warning is excluded by overriding federal law.” In the event that the group is also defeated at the Supreme Court, Bayer has set aside another 3.8 billion euros.

One of the key questions is: Should Bayer have printed more stringent warnings on the products? Here, the group relies on federal law, since the US environmental authority EPA has declared glyphosate to be harmless, such a print was not compatible with applicable law.

Exactly this federal authority has now rowed back in a further proceeding before the federal appeals court in San Francisco. The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has declared in connection with a lawsuit by farmers and environmental organizations that they want to review their glyphosate decisions. She wants to analyze in more detail the dangers that threaten the application of the herbicide through drifts on arable land, some of which are far away. At the same time, the agency referred to an order from incumbent US President Joe Biden, who called on all environmental authorities to review their decisions during the Trump era on a scientific basis.

The authority is also in public criticism because more and more of the content of the “Monsanto Papers” is being analyzed – Monsanto had previously been sued for the publication of internal papers. With glyphosate, which the EPA has been researching for its carcinogenic potential since at least 1983, the goal was not only to discredit all scientific evidence that the chemical was harmful, but also to “get people to stand up and scream that glyphosate is non-toxic, “quoted” The Intercept “an in-house email from 1999. In addition, the magazine reported on an EPA report written in 2016 that established a link between cancer and glyphosate, but was not classified as” confidential ” has been published. In addition, former employees report that they have been put under pressure.

This is one of the reasons why farmers and environmental organizations are calling on the EPA not to limit their review to environmental hazards, but also to carefully review the risks to human health. In an open letter, you also asked the gardening trade to immediately stop selling Roundup. Bayer had previously announced that it would no longer sell glyphosate-containing Roundup weed killers to private customers in the United States from 2023. Alternative active ingredients are to be used in the future.

For Andrew Kimbrell of the Center for Food Safety, a “historic victory” with qualifications: “As this toxic pesticide continues to be used on a large scale in agriculture, our farm workers and consumers are still at risk. It is time for the EPA to act and ban glyphosate for all uses. “

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