The German government has joined Austria, Belgium, Croatia, Cyprus, Greece, Italy, Luxembourg, and Malta in recognising the need to phase out glyphosate-based weed killers by 2023.
The decision announced on 4 September is a major blow to the German chemical giant Bayer, which took over Monsanto in 2018 for €54 billion and has since seen its stock value tumble.
Bayer has already been exposed to multi-billion-dollar litigation costs in the US due to one of Monsanto’s best-selling products – the weed killer Roundup, widely used since the 1970s, which popularised glyphosates.
A 2015 World Health Organization report linked glyphosates to cancer, specifically non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. The agent is also linked to the decline of pollinating insects, such as bees and butterflies.
Bayer recently issued a statement expressing its disagreement with the German government saying, “Such a ban would ignore the overwhelming scientific assessments of competent authorities around the world, all of whome have determined for more than 40 years that glyphosate can be used safely,” Bayer said.
Both the policy and the scientific consensus are changing, however.
The European Parliament adopted a non-binding resolution in October 2017 that calls for a glyphosate ban by 2022, while the EU Commission extended the glyphosate license for five years, providing scope for different policy reactions. While eight members of the EU opted to ban the agent effective immediately, Germany, the Czech Republic, and France have taken a more gradual approach.
France voted in 2017 to extend the glyphosate license, in line with European Commission demands, but 20 French mayors defied the national decision and banned the weed killer.
Bayer is not the only German company concerned by this decision. The BASF consortium also produces a glyphosate-based weed killer under a license.
Germany is now committed to pursuing a so-called “systematic reduction strategy,” banning the use of glyphosates initially in domestic gardens and allotments, as well as the edge of farmers’ fields.