15 October 1999

BAA stays calm on threat to glyphosate

CLAIMS that the widely-used herbicide glyphosate could face a European ban have been played down by the British Agrochemicals Association (BAA).

A confidential European Union report leaked to Channel Four News this week, concluded that glyphosate may kill beneficial insects and spiders and advised that the chemical should not be approved for EU pesticide listings until further tests have been carried out.

But a BAA spokesman said this report was only a standard part of an ongoing process in the EU active ingredients review, intended to identify areas where more data was needed.

"The report has identified a gap in data which has not been sufficiently addressed as yet. Companies have now been asked to address that data requirement, and have an opportunity to close the gap with new data. The authorities will then look at this data, and make a judgment."

Active ingredient

The active ingredient review preceded moves to standardise EU pesticide regulations. Currently members approve pesticides unilaterally and all approve glyphosate.

Monsanto, manufacturers of Roundup, the most popular glyphosate brand and developers of the genetically modified Roundup Ready crops, claimed that the EU research was based on four-year-old data which had since been superseded.

Commenting on the report, a Monsanto spokesman said: "Monsanto is very confident it can rebut the claims of this report."

Fellow agrochemical company Zeneca, which manufactures glyphosate herbicide Touchdown, echoed this. A spokesman said: "We have submitted additional research which demonstrates that the risks to arthropods are negligible." He was confident that Touchdown would be approved by the EU.

Swedish research

Separate research from Sweden included in the news report suggested a possible link between exposure to glyphosate and a higher risk of contracting cancer of the lymph glands.

But the Monsanto spokesman emphatically denied any link, and said that several independent experts had dismissed the Swedish study as "spurious".

He added: "There have been independent and extensive reviews of toxicological data on glyphosate by the Environmental Protection Agency, the World Health Organisation and the EU. All have concluded that glyphosate is neither mutagenic nor carcinogenic.

"Farmers can carry on using glyphosate knowing that this single study has been contradicted by several independent studies."

A spokesman for MAFF said more information was needed on the effects glyphosate had on non-target species.

An EU spokesman said: "This research is part of an ongoing re-evaluation of around 90 pesticides. It would be premature to speculate on an individual pesticide." &#42

Donald McPhail