The Bundestag’s European department determined that a national ban of glyphosate would be legal because, while the EU is responsible for the authorisation of the active substances contained in pesticides and weed killers, Member States are responsible for the authorisation of the products themselves.
Glyphosate, developed by US agri-giant Monsanto, which markets products under the Roundup brand, was first authorised for use in the EU in 1974. Today, it is one of the most commonly used weed killers in the bloc.
However, there is considerable controversy regarding whether the chemical represents a risk to human health.
A 2015 report from the World Health Organization’s cancer agency, the International Agency for Research on Cancer, found glyphosate is “probably carcinogenic to humans”.
Subsequent studies, including those conducted by the EU’s food (EFSA) and chemicals (ECHA) agencies, found there is not enough evidence to support a link between glyphosate and elevated cancer risk.
Eighteen member states voted in favour of the move, representing a qualified majority of 65.71% of the EU population – just over the 65% threshold required.
Germany swung the decision. Having abstained from previous votes, Germany reversed its position and voted in favour of the license.
According to reports, the decision to vote in favour of the license was taken by Agriculture Minister Christian Schmidt without the backing of the Environment Ministry. At the time, Germany’s Social Democrat Environment Minister Barbara Hendricks said the decision was taken without the department’s agreement and in spite of her opposition.
Schmidt’s voting behaviour was later reprimanded by Chancellor Angela Merkel.
What would a ban look like?
Schmidt, of the Christian Social Union (CSU) party, has indicated he favours a ban on the personal use of glyphosate in gardens and allotments, while the “late application” of the chemical in cereals should be flagged.
In a letter to CSU members, he also suggested that research must commence identifying alternatives for glyphosate.
However, the Social Democrats and Greens are pushing for a full national ban.
Harald Ebner, the Green’s glyphosate expert, insisted that a ban on private use would represent a “tiny reduction” in the amount of glyphosate used in the country and would “not benefit the environment and health”.
“The importance of glyphosate withdrawal is illustrated by new studies that suggest that glyphosate not only threatens biodiversity and is likely to be carcinogenic, but also increases the risk of Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease and provides resistance to antibiotics,” Ebner stressed.
German Farmers Association, the BDV, supports the continued use of glyphosate. The BDV suggested that German and European farmers use the weed killer “responsibly” and with “proven expertise”. The organisation also stressed that the plant protection product allows soil conservation and “improves the CO2 balance in agriculture”.