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German environmental regulators toughen restrictions on glyphosate use

Staff Writer |
Environmental regulators in Germany have announced tougher national regulations for the use of certain crop protection products by farmers on Tuesday.

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Speaking during a joint press conference in Berlin, Environment Minister Svenja Schulze (SPD) and Federal Environmental Agency (UBA) president Maria Krautzberger said that agricultural producers would have to dedicate at least 10 percent of their arable land to the protection of biodiversity if they wanted to use certain crop production products.

The Federal Office of Consumer Protection and Food Safety (BVL) had already issued corresponding notices concerning three glyphosate-based products for which regulatory re-approval is currently pending.

Additionally, Schulze presented her own proposals for a gradual exit from all glyphosate-based products in Germany which has already been agreed by the German Social Democrats (SPD), the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), and Christian Social Union (CSU) in their coalition agreement.

Schulze is advocating for a complete ban in private gardens and public green spaces such as parks, as well as in "ecologically sensitive" areas. Although responsibility for the legislation to phase out glyphosate formally lies with Agriculture Minister Julia Kloeckner (CDU), several federal ministries are currently seeking to reconcile their respective visions of concrete necessary steps towards that end.

Critics of the herbicide glyphosate have described it as a major cause for declining biodiversity and a cause of cancer in human populations. By contrast, supporters of glyphosate-based products, such as the world's most widely-used crop protection product "RoundUp", have pointed to significant increases in agricultural yield which farmers can achieve.

Responding to the regulatory change on Tuesday, the German chemicals giant Bayer AG expressed regret at the decision to curtail use of what it described as a safe and proven product to improve harvests.

"Whoever is in favor of more sustainability in agriculture should be a supporter of glyphosate instead of demanding an exit from its use", a press statement by the Leverkusen-based company read. Bayer further warned that a loss of access to glyphosate would undermine the competitiveness of German farmers.

"Unfortunately, the debate surrounding glyphosate in Germany is influenced more by political interests than scientific evidence", Helmut Schramm, director of Bayer's German CropScience division, complained. Following its recent acquisition of rival Monsanto, Bayer has become the world's largest producer of pesticides and herbicides and is now also responsible for the "RoundUp" product range developed successfully by the U.S. agrochemical company.

The World Health Organization (WHO) designated "RoundUp" as "probably carcinogenic" back in 2015. Monsanto and Bayer have repeatedly drawn attention to "more than 800 scientific studies, the U.S. environmental agency EPA, national health institutes and global regulators" which the companies claim have all reached the opposite conclusion that glyphosate is safe.

Nevertheless, Monsanto was recently ordered by a court in San Francisco to pay 68 million dollars in damages to a terminally-ill former school groundskeeper who said he developed blood cancer due to his professional exposure to "RoundUp". In October, judge Suzanne Ramos Bolanos re-affirmed a previous verdict that products sold by the Bayer subsidiary were carcinogenic and that the producer consciously decided not to provide consumers with an appropriate warning about resulting risks.

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