The implications of the recent “stalemate” in Parliament regarding the extension of license for the use of glyphosate-based herbicides amid concerns about its possible health are very worrisome. The European Parliament could not vote with the majority against the continued use of the potentially deadly weed killer. The deadlock in parliament created an unhealthy space for the Commission to be the umpire, using its executive power to resolve the deadlock and your guess as to the direction of the Commission’s decision is as good as mine.
Prior to the recent Parliamentary debate, the discussion had pitched the European Commission, Monsanto, Bayer, BASF and a host of other institutions against the European Parliament, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) and a host of others too. The argument is that glyphosate is one of the endocrinal troublemakers and it has been accused of provoking several kinds of bowel cancers. However, it is difficult to prove this link as it has only been tested on animals. It is a debate about the balance of the precautionary principle and the management of the risks from using possibly pathogenic products.
Last year, the Commission only gave a limited extension of 18-months, pending the outcome of more detailed information not unconnected with the link of glyphosate as a potential carcinogen. Earlier on, the European Commission had received opposition from the European member nations when it proposed to renew the license for glyphosate-based weed killers for 15 years, and it then came up with the 10-year proposal. Meanwhile, the Civil Society has been demanding an outright phase-out of the weed killer based on public health and climate change concerns – but the lobby of the Transnational Corporations appears to be having its way.
The decision of the Commission to ask for a 10-year extension of the license without recourse to the Precautionary Principle is a cause for concern. One wonders whether the Commission now has all the information regarding the safety of glyphosate-based herbicides. At the same time, AEFJN is considering why the Parliament failed to vote with the majority in favour of an outright phase-out of the chemical herbicides, a deadly gamble with public health. It puts at risk the public health they are expected to protect. Their commitment to climate change measures is also being exposed in its true form in this debate. It is at most lip service.
Besides the health risks of glyphosate, its deadly ecological impact has long been established. The principle of action of Monsanto’s Roundup which has glyphosate as an essential ingredient is mind- boggling. It destroys every weed except genetically modified plants. In this vein, the soil components of the ecosystem with millions/billions of micro-organisms living and interacting in it are not safe. Some research findings have shown that a teaspoon of healthy and productive soil generally contains between 100 million and 1 billion varieties of microorganisms or creatures. Some scientists suggest that the numbers may even be more than the number of humans on earth. The use of chemical herbicides consequently puts the entire ecosystem at risk.
But what is even more worrisome is that there is no mention or consideration of Africa in the debate yet the link between policy changes in Europe and the impact on Africa are evident. The glyphosate debate more or less exposes an ethical deficit in the EU’s international diplomacy especially as it affects Africa. While the EU has concerns about the possible health implications of Glyphosate herbicides and uses her strong political institutions to ensure high ethical standards for the safety of her citizens where it is used, it does not blink an eye in making the Glyphosate herbicide an integral part of her industrial agricultural program for Africa. Does it mean that what may not be good for Europe will surely be good for Africa? While it is a little bit too early to debate the yet-to-be-taken decision of the Commission on this matter, it is already beginning to look gloomy for the African countries that receive development aid from the EU because they do not feature in the health aspect of the glyphosate-based herbicide controversy. Thus, with crossed fingers, AEFJN awaits the final decision of the Commission with the hope that due and immediate consideration will be accorded to both EU and African countries in one sweep.

Chika Onyejiuwa