Pesticide without declaration

While working on a study, scientists found undeclared substances in fourteen pesticides freely available in the EU, all of which are just as toxic or more toxic than “glyphosate”. The quantities found exceed the toxicity thresholds defined by the international health authorities. The study authors speak of" fraud", almost 120 members of the European Parliament accuse the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) responsible for the approvals of failures and demand urgent measures.

It’s not “just” about “glyphosate”

The debate about the harmfulness of pesticides has been dominated for years by debates about the weed killer “Roundup”, which was marketed by Bayer AG (formerly Monsanto), and the chemical compound “Glyphosate” contained therein. No wonder ,because “Glyphosate” is the most important ingredient of herbicides worldwide.

However, whether “glyphosate” produces cancer or can promote cancer production is still controversial. Although there are numerous signs from various fields of application, several US courts and also the International Agency for Cancer Research (IARC) rate it as “probably carcinogenic”. Other organisations and authorities, including, for example, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), come to the opposite conclusion, partly as a result of different methods of assessment. And various scandals due to industry-funded studies and negligent authorities, which had simply copied from it when the active substance was approved, hardly helped to put an end to the hickshacking around “glyphosate”. After all, products containing glyphosate have now been banned in some countries. Others will follow, but Switzerland is not yet part of it.

Just as toxic or more toxic than “glyphosate”

The discussion about “Glyphosate” is important – but it takes up too much space in the fight against poisons in pesticides that are harmful to humans. Too easily forget other products that are at least as harmful, if not significantly more harmful. At the end of November 2020, biologists Gilles-Éric Séralini and Jungers Gerald published a study in the scientific journal “Food and Chemical Toxicology” in which they examined the molecules that make up fourteen pesticides or herbicides for general use. All tested products are certified as free of “glyphosate” and are available on the European market without restrictions. A walk to the next garden centre is enough.

The summarized results of the study: The investigated products (Monsanto, Compo, Jade, Target, Bross) all contain other ingredients that are just as toxic, or even more toxic than the famous “glyphosate”. The substances found, including carcinogenic petroleum residues such as benzo (a) pyrene or heavy metals such as lead, nickel, silicon, zinc, titanium or arsenic, were detected in quantities exceeding the toxicity thresholds defined by international health authorities.

“These different amounts of undeclared toxic chemicals violate the European Union’s pesticide regulations and can have health and environmental consequences, especially with long-term exposure,” the researchers write in their work. “This is a potentially explosive discovery for the crop protection market and the authorities that regulate it,” comments French media, which was the first to report on the study.

“Supervisory authority has failed”

On 25 February, almost 120 members of the European Parliament reacted to the scientific work. They called on the European Food Safety Authority (ETSA), which is responsible for approving these chemicals, to properly test the fourteen pesticides concerned for toxic substances.

According to the meps, the ETSA has failed as a licensing authority because in the past it did not take into account substances other than “glyphosate” or the “cocktail effect” that results from the combination of different molecules. However, a ruling by the European Court of Justice in 2019 required ETSA not to limit its assessments to individual active substances such as “glyphosate” – but also to analyse them together with the compounds that arise when a product is mixed. “The procedures leading to the authorisation of a plant protection product must include, in addition to the evaluation of the active substances themselves, an evaluation of the cumulative effects of these substances and their cumulative effects with other components of this product”, according to the judgment of the European Court of Justice of October 2019.

In a letter the EU parliamentarians criticize that the “ETSA does not apply the method prescribed by the European legislator correctly.“They call on ETSA to also take into account the” cocktail effect " in approval procedures, starting with the approval or renewal process of a declared active substance. They also call on the European authority to “ensure the publication of the raw data, articles and references on which EFSA bases its assessments”.

“This is cheating”

Gilles-Éric Séralini, co-author of the scientific publication, speaks of “fraud” because pesticides and insecticides are sold without any indication of their toxicity. ETSA is well aware that"manufacturers do not declare the entire composition of their products”. This is a “scientific concession”.

In the meantime, nine environmental organizations from France have responded: at the beginning of December, they filed a lawsuit for “label fraud, endangering the lives of others and harming the environment”.

Authority plays ball back to member states

When EFSA was asked about the matter by parliamentarians, it also sent its answers to the media. In the press release, she pointed out that European legislation on pesticides obliges her to evaluate “isolated active ingredients and non-pesticide formulas”. When the French online magazine “mediapart” referred to the ruling of the European Court of Justice, the journalists did not receive answers to the questions asked.

For the evaluation of pesticide formulas, the European Food Safety Authority then played the ball back to the individual Member States. They have the power to grant or refuse authorisation at national level. However, the issue of European regulation of pesticides is of crucial importance, as it largely determines national policy on pesticides. The respective approval authorities of the Member States often rely on the opinions of ETSA for their approvals. A vicious circle in which the licensing authorities push the responsibilities further.

ETSA is now obliged to respond to the letter from the EU parliamentarians within two months. For them, however, this is only the beginning. If necessary, the European Parliament will have to deal with the case, and it is also possible to go to the European Court of Justice.