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EU Must Reject Monsanto’s GM RR Crops and Toxic Herbicide “Platform”

Immediate release (21 Jun 2013)

Calls to: Pete Riley 07903 341 065; Stephanie Williamson 07890 413 204

The EU must not repeat the mistakes that lead to the emergence of US glyphosate resistant “superweeds”, and it must reject Monsanto’s toxic “platform” to control them, said GM Freeze and the Pesticide Action Network UK in a briefing published today. [1]

Monsanto’s belated attempts in the US to control superweeds in its Roundup Ready (RR) maize, soya and cotton now include promoting seven other herbicides to be used in mixtures with, or instead of, its top selling herbicide Roundup (active ingredient glyphosate). All these herbicides add to the toxic burden already borne by the environment due to pesticide use escalation under of GM RR crops. Some pose risks for human health.

The new briefing examines the four soil-acting herbicides Monsanto recommends US famers, nearly half of whom report problems with glyphosate resistant weeds, [2] should use to combat the rapid spread of weed resistance. The four herbicides (acetochlor, flumioxazin, sulfentrazone and the newly-introduced pyroxasulfone) may soon be used in combination with herbicides 2,4-D, dicamba and glufosinate ammonium to delay the spread of glyphosate resistant weeds in US RR crops. [3]

The organisations sound a clear warning that a complex arsenal of herbicides would also be needed in the EU to delay weed resistance if any of the 14 RR crops in the EU authorisation pipeline are ever approved – raising serious concerns about the overall impact on health and the environment caused by RR crops. Globally 24 species of weed already have confirmed glyphosate resistance. [4]

The briefing explains the toxicity of each herbicide to humans and wildlife, as well as its mobility and persistence in the environment. Independent scientific data on each substance is limited, especially for pyroxasulfone, placing heavy reliance on industry-funded safety assessments submitted to regulators. Even this limited data show some alarming potential effects from the four herbicides, at least two of which appear on PAN International’s list of Highly Hazardous Pesticides.

Dr Stephanie Williamson of PAN UK commented:

We already face major challenges in much of Europe, where herbicide residues continue to contaminate surface waters and groundwater above permitted levels. These residues then have to be removed from drinking water sources at great cost, which water companies pass on to us as consumers.

If the EU approves any crops tolerant to glyphosate there will be a need to pull out all the stops to delay weed resistance – meaning that an arsenal of other herbicides will be used alongside Roundup. All of the herbicides we have looked at that might form part of a Monsanto package in the EU have significant safety problems, and the approval of GM Roundup Ready crops will result in an increased toxic burden on people and the environment.

EU regulatory authorities should think long and hard before approving such a cocktail of hazardous substances for use on crops as we have little independent information on their individual toxicities and none at all on their use in mixtures. Approving the cultivation of herbicide tolerant crops will undermine, rather than contribute to, achieving the objectives of the EU Directives on Sustainable Use of Pesticides and on water quality.

Pete Riley of GM Freeze said:

Farmers have been sold a pup by Monsanto. The development of glyphosate resistant weeds was an inevitable consequence of GM RR crop use, and as a result weed control costs and complexity are both increasing in the US – completely contradicting the promise GM companies made to make weed control cheap and easy.

European farmers will face similar problems if we follow the RR route. Monsanto’s solution is more GM and chemicals, and their ‘platform’ of herbicides to delay weed resistance is steadily growing. The EU should reject GM Roundup Ready crops to avoid a massive jump in herbicide use here. Instead we should train farmers in integrated weed management based on longer rotations, break crops, mechanical weeding and shallow cultivation techniques.

Monsanto must not be allowed to dictate the direction of our agriculture, and we need to make a conscious decision to step off their herbicide treadmill.




[1] GM Freeze and PAN UK, 21 June 2013. The Herbicide Treadmill in Roundup Ready Crops – EU environment faces huge increase in toxic burden

[2] Kent Fraser, 25 January 2013. “Glyphosate Resistant Weeds – Intensifying

[3] GM Freeze and PAN UK, 2 August 2012. GM Herbicide Tolerant Crops –Less equals more

[4] Heap, I. The International Survey of Herbicide Resistant Weeds. Accessed 10 May 2013