France Bans the World’s Leading Herbicide From Garden Stores

The move follows the World Health Organization’s finding that Monsanto’s Roundup is a probable carcinogen.

(Photo: Phillipe Hugen/Getty Images)

Jun 15, 2015· 1 MIN READ
Taylor Hill is an associate editor at TakePart covering environment and wildlife.

Walk into any neighborhood garden store and you’ll most likely find weed-killing jugs of chemicals right next to the tulips, daisies, and bird feeders.

But that will no longer be the case in France.

On Sunday, Ségolène Royal, the environment and energy minister, announced a plan to ban Roundup from all garden=store shelves in the country.

The reason? The world’s most popular weed killer contains glyphosate—a chemical the World Health Organization in March determined to be “probably carcinogenic to humans.”

“France must be on the offensive with regards to the banning of pesticides,” Royal said Sunday on French 3TV.

It’s a blow to U.S.-based biotech giant Monsanto, which first developed glyphosate-based Roundup products 40 years ago. In the 1990s, the company introduced “Roundup Ready” genetically modified crops that can withstand glyphosate. That led to widespread use of the herbicide around the world, most prominently in soybean fields. Now, the International Agency for Research on Cancer says there’s “limited evidence” that exposure to Roundup aids in the formation of non-Hodgkin lymphoma in humans, based on studies conducted on farm workers in the U.S., Canada, and Sweden.

RELATED: In the Midwest, It’s Monarchs Versus Monsanto

“Under the conditions recommended on the label, the product does not present any particular risk for the user,” a company representative said to Reuters in an email. Monsanto executives contend that the IARC’s findings on glyphosate didn’t include the “full body of science” on the herbicide.

“In total, 160 nations have reviewed the scientific record and have concluded that glyphosate is safe for use,” Monsanto states on its website—but that should probably be changed to 159 now.

Glyphosate now shows up in everything from honey to soy sauce and flour, said Paul Towers, spokesperson for the Pesticide Action Network North America.

“The international community has sent a wake-up call to the U.S., underscoring the point that industrial agriculture is a disaster in the making,” Towers said.

So, Why Should You Care? As weeds become more resistant to herbicides like glyphosate, the spraying of glyphosate-based Roundup has increased. More than 88,000 tons of glyphosate were used in the U.S. in 2007, compared with 11,000 tons in 1992. That means more human exposure to a potentially carcinogenic chemical.

Glyphosate has also been linked to the precipitous decline in monarch butterflies. The herbicide can kill milkweed, which is monarch caterpillars’ sole food source.

“Eliminating Roundup, as France has done, will help protect the iconic monarch butterflies, and we believe that other countries, including the U.S., must address Roundup and glyphosate use…as it has essentially wiped out milkweed,” said Tiffany Finck-Haynes, a pollinator expert at Friends of the Earth.

President Obama’s national pollinator strategy, released last month, didn’t propose curtailing glyphosate or other chemicals known to be harmful to pollinators. Instead, it focused on setting aside “pollinator friendly” land while inviting more research on a class of pesticides called neonicotinoids.

“There is a need for a countrywide transition to least-toxic ecological weed management,” Towers said. “The new plan must break the cycle of weed resistance that keeps farmers on a pesticide treadmill and phase out reliance on health-harming herbicides.”