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French court bans sale of controversial weedkiller

Ruling prohibits sale of a glyphosate product to professionals, citing arguments that chemical is potentially carcinogenic.

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A French farmer sprays glyphosate herbicide

Glyphosate is one of the world’s most widely used herbicides.Credit: Jean-Francois Monier/AFP/Getty

A French court has banned the sale of Roundup Pro 360 — a weedkiller that contains the controversial ingredient glyphosate — to professional gardeners and farmers.

The ruling follows the ban enacted on 1 January in France on amateur gardeners buying herbicides that contain glyphosate.

The safety of glyphosate — a widely used herbicide — has been under mounting scrutiny since 2015, when a scientific body of the World Health Organization (WHO) concluded that it is “probably carcinogenic” to humans, although other studies disagree.

The ruling, made in a Lyon administrative court on 15 January, revokes the national market authorization of Roundup Pro 360, which was issued by the French Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health & Safety (ANSES) in March 2017. The product was developed by US agrochemical giant Monsanto, which was bought by the German firm Bayer in 2018.

France is among the nations that have lobbied against the use of glyphosate in the European Union. In November 2017, the European Commission granted a five-year extension on the use of glyphosate in the EU amid fierce arguments between member states. French President Emmanuel Macron said immediately after the decision that he had asked the French government to ban the product within three years.

Legal wrangling

The Lyon court ruling cited the finding from the WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer that the chemical is potentially carcinogenic, and said that the product’s approval did not respect ‘precautionary principle’ of the French environment charter, which allows potentially harmful products to be banned.

The French Committee for Research and Independent Information on Genetic Engineering (CRIIGEN), which filed the lawsuit in a bid to get Roundup Pro 360 banned, says that it hopes the ruling leads to the prohibition of all glyphosate products in France.

In a 17 January statement in response to the ruling, ANSES said that it had not made any error in its assessment of national and European legislation, but said that it was re-evaluating all glyphosate products at the government’s behest.

Bayer said in a statement that it was surprised by the verdict and did not rule out appealing. Monsanto has consistently said that glyphosate is safe.

doi: 10.1038/d41586-019-00259-x
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