The decision to ban glyphosate is not an easy one. It requires a careful consideration of the risks and benefits, as well as a willingness to explore alternative approaches to weed management.
The possible decision by the European Union this summer to ban the use of glyphosate, a widely used herbicide, in the short or long term has sparked a heated debate among farmers, environmental activists, and policymakers. While many applaud the decision as a necessary step to protect public health and the environment, others argue that the ban will have serious economic consequences for farmers and could jeopardize food security.
On the one hand, glyphosate has been linked to a range of health and environmental problems, including cancer and soil degradation. The International Agency for Research on Cancer of the World Health Organization has classified glyphosate as a “probable carcinogen to humans,” while studies have shown that the herbicide can harm beneficial insects and other wildlife.
Moreover, the widespread use of the herbicide has led to the emergence of weeds that are resistant to it and require even more powerful and toxic herbicides to control. This vicious cycle has raised concerns about the long-term sustainability of industrial agriculture and the health of our food system.
It is a fact that glyphosate is an essential tool for modern agriculture
On the other hand, it is a fact that glyphosate is an essential tool for modern agriculture, especially for large-scale extensive crops such as cereals, soybeans, and corn. The switch to minimal tillage, which has greatly reduced soil erosion and diesel consumption per hectare, is not possible without glyphosate. Furthermore, glyphosate has been shown to be a very cost-effective and efficient way to control weeds, which is crucial to maintaining high yields and keeping food prices low.
Given these conflicting interests, the decision to ban glyphosate is not an easy one. It requires a careful consideration of the risks and benefits, as well as a willingness to explore alternative approaches to weed management. For smaller, more intensive crops such as potatoes, sugar beet and field vegetables, new techniques such as weeding robots and other smart high-tech weeders may be able to compensate for the ban on glyphosate. However, for farmers, the question remains whether the higher costs of these alternatives will be reimbursed, either through government subsidies or higher market prices.
Ultimately, the decision to ban glyphosate must be guided by the precautionary principle, which means that caution is necessary in the face of uncertainty. Given the growing concern of the harm of glyphosate, both to human health and the environment, limiting or more strongly regulating the use of glyphosate is a necessary step towards a more sustainable and resilient food system. For the wealthy West, the higher price for food without glyphosate may be digestible in the long run, but what about the poorer countries where there are already famines. Especially in these uncertain times with high inflation, this is certainly a point to seriously consider.