Austrian lawmakers have voted to ban all uses of glyphosate – an ingredient in many weed killers including the widely used brand Roundup – over concerns it can cause cancer.
“The scientific evidence for the plant poison’s carcinogenic effect is increasing. It is our responsibility to ban this poison from our environment,” Pamela Rendi-Wagner, the leader of Austria’s Social Democrats, which brought the bill, said in a statement on Tuesday.
“A plant poison that is suspected of being carcinogenic, should simply no longer be used,” said Rendi-Wagner in an emailed statement to CNN on Wednesday.
“There is hope that other European countries will follow the Austrian example,” she added.
The bill will be voted on again next week in the country’s Federal Council, the parliament’s upper house, and it’s expected to be passed. If passed, the law would take effect on January 1, 2020.
“With the glyphosate ban from 2020 Austria is the first country in the European Union to ban this poison for the well-being and protection of people,” said Rendi-Wagner.
However, a ban would be in conflict with EU law because glyphosate is cleared for use in the bloc until December 2022.
Bayer, the parent company of Roundup maker Monsanto, responded to the ban with a statement saying that it expects the European Commission to review this decision “critically,” as it “may be inconsistent with mandatory legal and procedural requirements and scientific reasoning.”
In 2015, the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer said that glyphosate is “probably carcinogenic to humans.”
Since WHO’s classification, thousands of cancer patients in the United States who used Roundup have sued Monsanto. Many cases are pending at the federal or state level.
After high-profile court cases of cancer patients who said Roundup caused their cancer, Monsanto has been ordered to pay millions in damages. These and similar cases have carried financial repercussions for Monsanto’s parent company, Bayer.
However, there is fierce debate over whether glyphosate causes cancer. The US Environmental Protection Agency said in May that it posed no risks to public health. Monsanto has long insisted that its product does not cause cancer.
“We respect the decision of the Austrian Parliament but are seriously concerned about any restriction or ban on glyphosate and glyphosate-based products in European Member States, which is not in line with the current EU assessment and authorization of these products,” Bayer said in the statement.
Effects of glyphosate
According to Bayer, banning glyphosate in Austria will not help improve food safety or sustainability of agricultural practices. “Without glyphosate, Austrian farmers will face difficulties in managing weeds in a sustainable and efficient manner, leading to higher energy consumption, higher CO2 emissions, and higher production costs for potentially less harvests.”
The herbicide glyphosate can help minimize carbon emissions, because it allows farmers to avoid plowing (also known as tillage) which requires heavy farm machinery, increases fuel consumption and leads to soil disruption, according to Bayer.
US Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue said in May “if we are going to feed 10 billion people by 2050, we are going to need all the tools at our disposal, which includes the use of glyphosate.”
Get CNN Health's weekly newsletter
Sign up here to get The Results Are In with Dr. Sanjay Gupta every Tuesday from the CNN Health team.
But a recent study by the University of Washington showed that people exposed to glyphosate had a 41% increased risk of cancer.
“All of the meta-analyses conducted to date, including our own, consistently report the same key finding: exposure to GBHs (glyphosate-based herbicides) are associated with an increased risk of NHL,” or non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, wrote the study authors.