Germany Moves Toward Glyphosate Phase-out

06.09.2019 -

In a compromise agreement presented this week, Germany’s federal cabinet voted to curb the use of the controversial chemical glyphosate up to 2023, active ingredient in the equally controversial herbicide Roundup, and subsequently ban it. The government’s proposals will not be directly adopted as laws but will be implemented through a series of laws and ordinances over the coming months

The German decision follows months of wrangling between the Christian Democrat-led Agriculture ministry and the Social Democrat-led Environment Ministry – the same two ministries whose squabbles, under different ministers, resulted in the EU’s narrow reauthorization of the controversial herbicide chemical in 2017.

Up to now, agriculture minister, Julia Klöckner, has resisted efforts to ban glyphosate on grounds it is too soon to seek a ban, as the EU will not vote on its renewal before 2022. Ironically, the favorable 2017 vote that allowed a five-year reprieve for the chemical was cast by Germany as then-agriculture minister, Christian Schmidt, upstaged then-environment minister, Barbara Hendricks.

Germany’s remedy package for the environment, of which the glyphosate restrictions are part, is aimed primarily at protecting bees and insects. The country has seen a dramatic decline in insect populations, which many blame on the overuse of pesticides, and the research ministry has calculated that nearly a third of all animal and plant species should be considered endangered.

To help progress the glyphosate phase-out, the Research ministry, which presented the insect protection plan together with the two other ministries, plans to free up annual funding of €100 million ($110 million) for insect protection measures and research.

Much of the additional funding would come from subsidies Germany receives from the EU. Up to now, the government has used around 4.5% of the subsidies to finance environmental protection measures; however, environment minister Svenja Schulze would like to see this rise to 6% by 2020.

When the EU’s renewal vote on glyphosate comes around again in three years, the European Parliament has given notice that it will press for a full ban. Austria has already banned the substance, the first EU country to do so.  Some – in particular German industrial heavyweight Bayer, the world’s largest glyphosate producer – interpret the Commission’s vote to renew it as prohibiting individual member states from going it alone on a full ban.

France has banned the sale, distribution and use of glyphosate-containing herbicide Roundup Pro 365, and several French cities have also prohibited or restricted the use of agricultural products containing the chemical. French president, Emmanuel Macron, however, backed away from trying to push through a nationwide ban after facing the wrath of the country’s farmers

Although flagship company Bayer, which acquired Roundup with the $63 billion takeover of Monsanto in 2018, is now global leader not only in glyphosate but in agricultural chemicals  generally, Germany is only a small consumer, with a share of less than 1%. Europe as a whole has a share of under 10%. The largest consumers of glyphosate are in the Americas.