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‘Carcinogenic’ weed killer: Malta will await new EU legislation before banning herbicide use

Duncan Barry Sunday, 12 April 2015, 08:41 Last update: about 8 years ago

• MCCAA says Germany’s findings contradict WHO’s ‘probable cancer’ report on glyphosate • Germany is the EU state responsible for the re-evaluation of glyphosate

Malta will not ban the use of glyphosate - an active ingredient found in the weed killer known as Roundup - unless the EU imposes a ban or introduces new procedures related to its use, the Malta Competition and Consumers Authority (MCCAA) told The Malta Independent on Sunday when asked to comment about the fact that Germany's findings - the EU state responsible for the re-evaluation of glyphosate - contradict the World Health Organisation's (WHO) 'probable cancer' report on glyphosate.

Recently, the WHO issued a report - published in the medical journal The Lancet - which read that after 17 experts from 11 countries met at the International Agency for Research and Cancer (IARC) in France, to access the carcinogenicity of the ingredients used in the herbicide, the experts concluded that the herbicide glyphosate and the insecticides malathion and diazinon are to be classified as "probably carcinogenic to humans".

With regards to glyphosate, the official document concludes that there is "sufficient evidence of carcinogenicity in experimental animals. Glyphosate also caused DNA and chromosomal damage in human cells".

Glyphosate is the main ingredient of Roundup, a weed killer produced by Monsanto together with a number of "Roundup-ready" crops that are resistant to it, enabling fields to be sprayed with Roundup to kill everything but the crop plant. The product is believed to be used to kill weeds which grow on roundabouts as well.

Following recent revelations on the weed killer, this newsroom had immediately sent a number of questions to the health secretariat on whether the authorities have barred the use of Roundup, which is believed to be widespread. The health authorities and the MCCAA had come back to us some two weeks ago stating that they are monitoring the situation and that they would be calling a meeting to discuss a way forward.

This week, this newsroom followed up the case and asked the MCCAA whether it had discussed the use of the herbicide in Malta. It also asked whether it would be revoking its use along with other products, including Shamal MK Plus CL (30.8% glyphosate) - a glysophate herbicide which is also authorised for use in Malta. This newsroom also asked whether one can still find other glysophate herbicides which were meant to be revoked, such as Bioglyph, Glylos, Hopper blu, Touchdown S4, among others, since these are still listed on the MCCAA's website as approved pesticides but are said to be in the process of being revoked. We also asked whether instructions on labels of such herbicides were being ignored.

The MCCAA stated that it is monitoring the situation and that the authority's position is in line with other competent authorities of other Member States.

"The authority assures that it is following this case closely, and will take the necessary action if required.

"Germany is the reference Member State that is responsible for the re-evaluation of glyphosate and their current findings contradict these reports.

"With regard to its regulatory responsibilities in this field, the MCCAA is in line with current EU and local legislation and practices. If any changes are enacted or implemented officially, the authority would abide accordingly.

"Also, action would be taken immediately in the event that a practice is identified which does not comply with applicable legislation or norms," the authority said.

Biotech giant Monsanto had called on WHO to retract claims

A few days after the WHO's IARC released a report declaring the well-known link between Monsanto's Roundup herbicide and cancer, the biotech giant called on the agency to issue a 'retraction'.

Worthy of note is that in June 2013, tests carried out by Friends of The Earth Malta concluded that nine out of 10 urine samples from tested people in Malta contained traces of the weed killer glyphosate.

Also, a bee-keeper who had spoken to this newsroom had said that he had witnessed the product being sprayed on street pavements to remove weed between the slabs, which he said, "may pose a risk to passers-by and residents in the vicinity".

He also raised the question as to whether the weed killer could be responsible for millions of honey bees - the most important crop pollinators on earth - dropping dead across the world.

When the WHO report had emerged, this newsroom asked some councils if they intended to prohibit the use of the herbicide in question. The Naxxar local council, for instance, stated that it would be binding contractors to use alternative methods.

The council had been one of the first to discuss the issue when the controversial reports on Roundup began to surface back in 2013. This after a motion for the herbicide to be prohibited as a means to control weed in the locality of Naxxar had been presented by PN councillor Pierre Sciberras.

Another council which had stopped its use was the St Paul's Bay council, which at the time, was led by Mayor Mario Salerno.

It is not clear - now that the local competent authority has stated that it will await developments before taking any further steps - whether local councils who do use this product will continue to use it.

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