The question of whether or not glyphosate, the most commonly-used weed-killer in history, causes cancer has been the subject of heated debates in Europe recently.
This past November, the European Union’s 28 member states voted on whether or not to renew the chemical’s license before it expired on December 15th. In a seemingly close tie, Germany’s vote to renew the licence (even though Austria, Italy, France and Belgium and over 1.3 million Europeans who’d signed a petition were against it) swung the EU towards saying 'yes' to the controversial chemical for another five years.
Shortly after the vote, France’s new president, Emmanuel Macron, announced on Twitter that France will be searching for “alternatives” to the chemical and have it banned within 3 years. The youngest president in France’s history ended his tweet with the hashtag #MakeOurPlanetGreatAgain. This personal, well-known slogan was unveiled the day President Trump announced he’d be pulling out of the Paris climate deal.
Glyphosate is a main ingredient in Monsanto’s ever-so-popular Roundup, which first came to market in 1974. Since then, its use has spread globally, from Brazil to Germany, Canada, India, the United States and beyond. For farmers, spraying glyphosate-containing Roundup on their genetically modified crops makes their job easier since spraying the chemical kills all other plants except their crops - the ones they don't want to die.
But “Roundup”, “glyphosate” and “Monsanto” have almost become bad words in much of the food, agriculture and wellness world. Questions regarding the safety of glyphosate boiled to the surface in 2015 when the World Health Organization famously announced that glyphosate is “probably carcinogenic to humans”.
Despite this troubling WHO news, Monsanto’s sales have not declined, and conventional farmers everywhere continue to spray the weed-killer. Not only is the chemical sprayed during the growing season, it’s also used as a “desiccant” and sprayed on grains (like oats and wheat) right before harvest. This means that many food products, like non-organic oatmeal, contain residues of Monsanto’s popular weedkiller.
Although many consumers and citizens, not just within France, welcome and approve of the French president’s promise to ban glyphosate from one of Europe’s largest food-producing countries by 2020, not all farmers in the country agree with his announcement. Like conventional (not organic) farmers everywhere who’ve become reliant on spraying glyphosate, the light at the end-of-using-glyphosate-tunnel doesn’t seem to be close, at least right now.
Macron’s tweet is not a stand-alone thought: individuals everywhere want more sustainable, safe and healthy food. When it comes to glyphosate, consumers have voting power, too. Buying and choosing certified organic (especially organic grains and cereals) is one way to avoid exposure to potentially dangerous weed killers, and to not support farming practices dependent on spraying vast amounts of chemicals.