EESC invites proponents and opponents to discuss European Citizens' initiative
On 5 April, the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC)'s NAT section invited supporters and opponents of the European Citizens' Initiative calling for a ban on glyphosate to debate in its premises. A million supporters from at least 7 member states are needed in order for the Commission to consider taking action about this substance along the demands of the ECI. After two months the initiative has already collected over 640,000 signatures.
The ECI includes three requests: firstly, a ban on glyphosate, secondly, a reform of the pesticide approval procedure, and thirdly, setting EU-wide mandatory reduction targets for pesticide use.
The discussion revealed opposing views on glyphosate and other pesticides among the speakers, who came from Greenpeace (Franziska Achterberg), the European Crop Protection Association (Graeme Taylor), ARC 2020 (Oliver Moore), Copa Cogeca (Oana Neagu) and the European Commission (Michael Flueh).
Referring to a WHO assessment that glyphosate was "probably carcinogenic to humans" and to a study of the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), Greenpeace called on the EU and the Member States to no longer allow the use of glyphosate. As a first step we should recognize people's concern and then look together for a possible way to phase out pesticides as we need to protect our resources – soil and water – and biodiversity, was its proposal.
For the European Crop Protection Association the challenge is to feed 9 billion people by 2050, since 40% of global crop yields are lost to plant pests and diseases each year. Glyphosate is vital for agriculture and he called on the Commission to speed up the approval of glyphosate for the next 15 years.
There is simply no alternative to glyphosate, Copa Cogeca said. A ban would rather have a negative impact on soil and crops, as 20 – 30 more litres of fuel per hectare would be needed. Working time would also increase by 50 – 80 hours per hectare. Farmers, however, needed to be trained to use pesticides more carefully, but this concerned developing countries rather than Europe.
ARC 2020 highlighted that the main problem with glyphosate is the "non-selectivity" (it kills all plants indiscriminately) and that it is "antimicrobial" (kills bacteria, algae and fungi too). Long-term studies are missing and significant findings have been diluted by the many industry-funded private studies. His proposed solution is agroecology, which could be achieved in 7 to 10 years, and would use biological, physical and mechanical methods instead of pesticides. Farmers should be compensated for yield losses through CAP subsidies.
The European Commission emphasised that EU law is among the strictest in the world and that the Commission has involved the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) in the decision-making process. Both classified glyphosate as unlikely to be genotoxic and that it did not pose a carcinogenic threat to humans.
For the EESC as a bridge with civil society, it is important to provide a forum where citizens can express their concerns. Therefore the EESC's specialised sections provide a discussion platform for ECI proponents when an ECI:
- has been registered by the Commission
- has been collecting signatures for at least two months
- is connected to the policy areas the section deals with
- is relevant to the section
This was the fourth public debate on an ECI organised by the EESC NAT section.