Contrary to popular belief, glyphosate is absolutely not banned in Europe: it was authorized for 5 years in 2017, ie until 2022. At that time 18 European countries (out of 28) had voted for this authorization (even if France had voted against, as well as 8 other countries, such as Belgium, Italy, Luxembourg or Austria).
President Macron had pledged to ban it in France within 3 years, which was not possible. It has only been removed where it was deemed most essential and easiest: in public spaces (since 2017), in private homes (since 2019), on SNCF railways (since 2021).
But it is still heavily used by (non-organic) farmers, many of whom believe they have no alternatives. In 2014, a record year, 9,500 tonnes were sold in France; we were still at 8,800 tonnes in 2017, and 5,900 tonnes in 2019 (see provisional graph published by the Ministry of Agriculture ). In Europe, only Austria and Luxembourg have stopped using it, in theory.
This file, which gives rise to a lot of passion and controversy, remains technical and complex; let’s try to make a small review (in no way exhaustive).
Whether glyphosate is carcinogenic or not, its days are numbered
Despite what a good part of the French population thinks, there is no proof that glyphosate is carcinogenic!
In fact only one international agency, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classified it as ” probable carcinogen »In 2015 (probable, uncertain), in the same way as red meat, drinks with more than 65 ° alcohol, tanning lamps or night work. But much less than tobacco, alcohol, processed meats, the birth control pill, air pollution, or leather and wood dust.
She specifies that painters, passive smokers and welders are at greater risk of developing cancer than people exposed to glyphosate (we are talking about farmers using glyphosate, not consumers of fruits and vegetables).
All the other international agencies that have commented on the subject have classified it as non carcinogenic : the United Nations (FAO and WHO), ANSES (French National Agency for Health Security), EFSA (European Food Safety Authority), Echa (European Chemicals Agency), EPA (European Agency for American Environmental Protection Agency), Osav (Swiss Federal Office for Food Safety and Veterinary Affairs), Arla – PMRA (Canadian Pest Management Regulatory Agency), RDA, APVMA (French Australian Pesticides and Medicines), the FSC (Forest Stewardship Council), the NZ EPA (New Zealand Environmental Protection Agency) and the BFR (German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment).
Critics of glyphosate obviously tend to focus only on the IARC study. They claim that all other agencies have been infiltrated and manipulated by Monsanto. It is true that this firm has a long experience in handling. But, in this area, everyone influences everyone.
On the Monsanto side, the long journalistic investigation called ” Monsanto papers »Showed that the company was aware, as early as the 1980s, of serious doubts about the safety of its products. And that she then engaged in a real scientific and media guerrilla war : in particular, she amended and co-wrote articles signed by experts that she presented as independent, to counter studies that she deemed embarrassing.
From there to thinking that it has succeeded in completely manipulating 15 international bodies from different countries, there is still a step that remains difficult to take. And besides, why would it have failed in the case of IARC alone?
Side detractors, the case of the “glyphosate pissers”, very publicized by television, showed personalities surprised to discover that they had glyphosate in their urine. She nevertheless ended up in a bit of blood sausage when an agricultural union showed that the Biocheck laboratory which had carried out the analyzes was unreliable, because it used the controversial “Elisa” technique. Other more traditional laboratories did not detect anything by chromatography, including among farmers who use glyphosate frequently. In fact, the sampling conditions, among others, have a considerable influence on the results.
In addition, nothing was said about the possible impact of the tiny doses that had been found, less than a microgram per liter (µg / L), therefore less than one in a billion, which corresponds to a few drops in an Olympic swimming pool. Moreover, gradually, with the improvement of detection techniques, we will end up finding in a human body a molecule of everything (the day our devices detect a fraction of a drop in the equivalent of dozens of Olympic swimming pools).
In addition, let us not overlook the fact that if our organism evacuates glyphosate through the urine, it means that it does not store it in our body. We therefore have both doubts about the reliability of the results and the interpretation of the data.
Another high profile case involved showing the press mice that developed cancerous tumors after eating cereal treated with glyphosate. The scientific community has shown that this study was manipulative in many ways, and proved nothing other than the fierce desire of their authors to ban this product.
These doubts have not prevented several American courts from intervening in cthis scientific controversy by strongly condemning the Monsanto firm, which she accused of causing cancer in some people, in particular a gardener who spread it in schoolyards and public parks.
Subsequently, the lawyer who had obtained this conviction, and incidentally gained a lot of money and notoriety by these trials, Timothy Litzenburg, was caught hand in the bag while trying to extort the sum of 200 million dollars from a manufacturer of pesticides whose products were used in the manufacture of Roundup. He was sentenced to 2 years in prison.
It is therefore very difficult to get a true idea of the dangerousness of this herbicide which, in fact, pays for others. Because his name is now universally known and is the most used in the world and in France. Suddenly we do not distinguish between the hundreds of different preparations in which it is involved, for very many companies. The formula has long since fallen into the public domain, and eventually all pesticide manufacturers have used it.
And during that time, we are not talking about the very many other herbicides which are widely spread, by hundreds or thousands of tonnes in France (Prosulfacarb, S-metolachlore, Pendimethalin, Chlortoluron, etc.). Neither fungicides and insecticides, also used in large quantities and generally considered to be more dangerous for human health.
But the days of glyphosate are likely to be numbered, at least in Europe, as politicians have decided to make it an example of their green politics. In the relatively short term, he will therefore be condemned for agriculture, and farmers will have to learn to produce efficiently without this tool that he found so convenient, efficient and inexpensive.