Europe just came close to banning the world’s most popular crop-protection product, but instead it narrowly avoided a terrible decision that would have frustrated farmers, hurt the environment, and made food more expensive everywhere.
On Monday, the European Commission put people, science, and economics ahead of politics when a panel voted to grant a five-year license renewal to the herbicide glyphosate.
This is a tremendous relief.
I know what a ban on glyphosate would have meant for my farm in the United Kingdom: We’d suffer soil erosion, turn back to stronger chemical controls, and produce less food.
Now we’ll get to use glyphosate for at least a little while longer. I’m disappointed that this excellent weed killer didn’t receive a 15-year extension, as originally proposed—but given that we just dodged what might have been a total ban, this is a very good outcome.
Over the next five years, farmers like me need to do a better job of making the case for glyphosate. It’s never too soon to start, so let me tell you my story.
Our farm is about a two-hour drive west of London, in an area called the West Midlands, where we grow bread-making wheat, malting barley, linseed, and more. We set aside a small part of our acreage for salad onions and handpicked peas. We also have a flock of 1,200 grazing ewes, lambing in April.
We’ve used glyphosate safely for two decades—and removing it from our toolkit would disrupt our sustainable practices. It would force us to return to cultivation for weed control, which means using machinery to turn over topsoil. This would come with steep environmental costs.
Without access to glyphosate, our soil would erode, causing us to lose moisture, nutrients, and biodiversity. We’d adopt alternative sprays that are more toxic and stay in the soil longer. We’d also run our equipment over our farmland more frequently, increasing our emission of greenhouse gases.
The innovation of glyphosate allowed us to abandon these harmful practices. We’d prefer not to have to take them up again—not now, and not five years from now.