How France and Germany Are Ousting Glyphosate In A Search For Healthy Soils and Pesticide-Free Crops

by Jonathan Latham

by Ramon Seidler, PhD

The Macron Government of France is offering its farmers a way out of glyphosate dependency within the next 3 years.

Millions have been following European discussions on the possible ban (or a new licensing period) for glyphosate-based herbicides; discussions which stemmed from the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) declaring glyphosate a probable human carcinogen in March, 2015.

Glyphosate application to pear trees (Credit: Chris Hardy)
Glyphosate application to pear trees (Credit: Chris Hardy)

European countries finally voted, in November, 2017 to allow glyphosate to be used another 5 years on farms. Although not the time period desired by many, this was less than the time wanted by industry, some countries, and some European agencies.

Germany, after initially abstaining, in a surprise, politically-motivated, change-of-heart, voted to back the European Commission’s proposal to extend the use of the weed-killer for 5 years. The surprise came when then Agricultural Minister Christian Schmidt took it upon himself to cast Germany’s deciding yes vote supporting 5 more years of glyphosate. Neither Chancellor Merkel nor Environmental Minister Barbara Hendricks had been notified of his intent. After the vote, French President Macron said he would take all necessary measures to ban the product, as soon as an alternative was available, and at the latest within three years.

The French solution to glyphosate

In November, 2018, the French government presented possible mechanisms for achieving such a ban. Here is my best understanding on how the French government sees a transition away from glyphosate use while protecting farmers financially.

Overall, the plan emphasizes good farming practices and encourages dialogue among farmers. The government has also declared that no one will be left without a solution if they abandon glyphosate.

The plan also involves:

1. An online platform where farmers can publically declare they are glyphosate free, or are in the process of committing to a glyphosate phase-out. The government anticipates that 25,000 organic farmers will sign up on the online platform since none use glyphosate.

2. A glyphosate phase-out support component where farmers can share experiences online with other farmers (both organic and conventional) who are involved in the phase-out process.

3. A “technical resource bank”–not fully described–but it appears experts will interact with farmers who have questions on how to phase out glyphosate use.

4. A tax for those farmers using glyphosate amounting to 1 Euro per Kilo of glyphosate used. This is referred to as a “phytosanitary” tax on the use of a pollutant. It is anticipated that this tax will generate $50 million euros ($57 million dollars) annually to help farmers transition away from pesticide use.

5. A National “Glyphosate Task Force” will be formed and led by the Ministries of Ecological Transition and Agriculture. With the support of the French National Institute for Agricultural Research (INRA), and other national agencies, they will report on the actions undertaken and the progress made by farmers in transitioning away from glyphosate based herbicides.

Supporting Macron’s ground-breaking plan, INRA declared that alternatives to glyphosate already exist for nearly 2/3 of the agricultural crop land.

Considerable descriptions are provided in the online platform giving farmers suggestions about changing their farming techniques. The great news is that the recommendations include the use of cover crops, no or minimal tillage and other procedures that encourage healthy soils and discourage weeds and pathogens. It thus appears there may be a major shift to agroecological or perhaps regenerative agricultural principles.

A clear description of how the program is envisioned to develop is offered here.

Glyphosate in Germany

The situation with France’s neighbor Germany seems less well developed and is apparently more complicated by political issues. Here is the situation as of November 6, 2018.

The German Minister for the Environment (Svenja Schulze) is calling for a binding date for the complete cessation of the use of glyphosate. The Federal Minister of Food and Agriculture (Julia Klockner) is resisting a complete phase-out program. She is suggesting a ban on glyphosate in public parks and private gardens and a 2020 start on a program setting aside 10% of each farm  to be glyphosate-free. Key details of her suggestions are not yet available though. There is no information as to whether that 10% of the farm is always in the same area or if it rotates around the farm. There is also no mention as to a schedule for increasing the 10% farm set aside area over time.

Schulze also wants to establish pesticide protected areas and establish new regulations on all future pesticide uses in the environment. She does not wish to have new future pesticides without new regulations intended to protect the environment from harms to “biodiversity.”

But aren’t all pesticides harming biodiversity? There are no synthetic pesticides that are 100% directed at a pest only. Exactly how harms to biodiversity will be defined and measured is apparently not yet determined.

Unlike France, neither German minister has provided timing, and other details on their glyphosate phase-out programs, nor how farmers can best be making such a transition. 

Through these announcements and actions, the French Government is making it clear it believes there are alternatives to using glyphosate (and other toxic herbicides) in commercial farming practices.  This is a fact known to organic farmers since the beginning of agriculture.  It’s called organic, agroecological, sustainable, or more recently regenerative agriculture.  What is new in all this is the French government is offering mechanisms using 21st century technologies and knowledge to help farmers adopt and adapt traditional farming practices with the aid of online information, robust communication and assistance, and financial incentives to make the switch and get it right.  The rewards include lower energy inputs, carbon dioxide sequestration from the atmosphere back into the soil, higher soil organic matter to better hold moisture, increased soil fertility and provide for greater biodiversity, while improving pollinator health, fewer toxic synthetic pesticides in our foods and bodies, and potentially higher financial returns to the farmers. The actual benefits from such a model agricultural system were recently documented in a small North Italian farming town that opted to stop using synthetic pesticides.

It is our hope that this French program to abandon glyphosate use on commercial farms and in public places takes hold and becomes a model for other nations. Perhaps U.S. States, and communities may also be considering a ban on glyphosate.  The State of Carinthia, Austria is another example of how pesticides can be banned.   

These are important green shoots for sustainable agriculture.  Let’s see them nurtured.

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Comments 7

    • At the one side of the world. people says grow organic food, why this company’s are not motivating they, because their product will be stopped using by farmer .
      many weeds are useful we should cultivate in different way to utilize its uses wise.

  • Hmmm… Bayer is a German company that just bought Monsanto. Is anyone surprised Bayer/Monsanto just might not wholeheartedly embrace a ban of its product, RoundUp/glyphosate?
    On the other hand, Europeans are not yet altered by the food supply: there are few overweight people and the adolescents have no acne. Childhood obesity is very unusual, as is adult morbid obesity. The average person is thin as Americans were before 1990.
    German needs to get on board with France and ban glyphosate!

  • Hemp grown as rotation crop will choke out weeds eliminating need for weed killers.

  • Toxic chemicals are completely unneccessary in food production. The key is to treat the farm as an ecosystem. Weeds are the result of factors we can control without chemicals: soil compaction, which is mostly due to plowing and tillage; excess nitrogen from synthetic fertilizer; and lower amounts and diversity of soil life, from plowing/tillage, synthetic fertilizers, and the ‘cides’- herbicides, fungicides, and insecticides.

    Techniques like no-till seeding of grain crops into closely grazed perennial pastures (‘pasture cropping’), companion cropping with cover crops, and/or the use of multi-species cover crops mown or crimped to create mulch will eliminate nearly all weeds.

    These techniques also increase the numbers and diversity of beneficial soil life – which also helps reduce weeds.

    Healthy soil life also feeds the plant- by fixing nitrogen from the air, and making minerals from the subsoil available to the plants. In turn, the plants feed the soil life through the roots (grasses excel at this), and through decay of dead plant matter – which increases soil carbon. THIS SOIL CARBON COMES FROM THE ATMOSPHERE.

    Healthy pastures sequester large amounts of carbon in the soil AND break down methane. Healthy soil under healthy pasture can absorb as much methane as 200 cows produce. With proper management, it usually takes at least 2 acres to maintain one cow, so properly managed pasture can absorb a lot of additional methane.

    ANIMALS ARE ESSENTIAL TO ALL FUNCTIONAL ECOSYSTEMS. There is NO intact ecosystem without animals. This includes methane-absorbing pasture. (Lawns are NOT pasture, and artificial grazing, aka mowing, does not have the same beneficial effect on soil and plants as grazing does. Grasses are far more efficient than other plants at pumping carbon from the atmosphere into the soil, including trees.

    References for the above include:
    ‘The Myths of Safe Pesticides’ by Andre Leu.

    ‘Restoration Agriculture’ – by Mark Shepard (also presentations on YouTube)
    ‘Treating the Farm as an Ecosystem’ – Parts 1 and 3, Gabe Brown – a production crop and livestock farmer with about 5,000 acres in North Dakota. He shares his journey from conventional tilling and chemical-based farming to regenerative farming, with NO chemicals or tilling needed- while producing yields at or above the average for his area.

    Dr. Elaine Ingham, soil microbiologist, SoilFoodWeb

    Joel Salatin, Polyface Farm, Swoope, Va.

  • Macron — one item at a time should take him many years to catch up with devestating agribusiness devestation.(a double negative).

  • It’s disingenuous to emphasize that Germany’s vote to renew glyphosate’s approval was politically motivated — everything around pesticide policy in Europe stinks of political motivation. In fact, the German vote came IN SPITE OF strong political pressure to the contrary, and he paid more than a political price for it. Looking at the scientific evidence around glyphosate, the only reasonable vote is for its renewed approval. It is one of the safest available herbicides. I say that not to support excessive or indiscriminate use, but to state a fact. I dislike how fear-mongering and half-truths get in the way of what should be a reasoned discussion on the costs and benefits of pesticides as we reconcile the need to safely feed the inconceivable number of people living on earth with the need to shore up environmental vulnerabilities exposed by those same people.

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