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ECONOMY | 03-12-2017 01:30

Argentina approves new soybean seed

European Union approves new five-year licence for glyphosate pesticide.

The Agricultural Ministry this week announced it had authorised the marketing and use of a new genetically modified soybean, SYN-000H2-5 Agrofirms Syngenta AG and Bayer AG had requested government approval for the soybean seed, which is resistant to herbicides other than glyphosate.

“This is of great importance given the rise of resistant weeds and other potential limitations to the use of the glyphosate herbicide,” the Agricultural Ministry said in a statement published in the Official Gazzette. Recent data from the INDEC national statistics bureau showed that producers were expected to plant 16.8 million hectares of soybeans for Argentina’s 2017-18 crop.

In an important week for glyphosate, a controversial weedkiller, the European Union also broke months of deadlock on Monday, to renew the licence for glyphosate for five years after Germany surprisingly voted in favour despite health concerns.

Glyphosate was introduced in 1974 by US agro-giant Monsanto under the brand-name Roundup. The pesticide has a controversial reputation and some critics fear it causes cancer. A WHO study found it was “probably carcinogenic” but later studies have disagreed.

In the European vote, the change of heart from Germany – with the bloc’s largest population was instrumental in ending the stalemate within the 28-nation union over the fate of the pesticide But the U-turn also appeared to reveal extraordinary tensions in Chancellor Angela Merkel’s efforts to form a new governing coalition, after a minister in Berlin said German officials in Brussels had disobeyed direct orders to abstain on the vote. In total, eighteen of the 28 EU states voted in favour of the European Commission’s proposal for a five-year renewal, with nine including France voting against, and one abstaining. Divisions over the weedkiller within the EU have dragged on since June 2016, when its previous 15-year licence expired and an 18-month extension was granted.

“Today’s vote shows that when we all want to, we are able to share and accept our collective responsibility in decision making,” EU Health Commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitis said in a statement. Environmental campaigners condemned the EU’s decision. “Today’s approval, even if only for five years, is a missed opportunity to get rid of this risky weedkiller and start to get farmers off the chemical treadmill,” said Adrian Bebb of Friends of the Earth Europe.

Greenpeace’s Franziska Achterberg said: “The people who are supposed to protect us from dangerous pesticides have failed to do their jobs and betrayed the trust Europeans place in them.”

Monsanto’s rival, the German chemical giant Bayer, also said it regretted the decision, voicing support for a 15-year extension of the licence for glyphosate.

Environmental campaigners like Greenpeace have been calling for an outright ban in Europe for glyphosate. Last month they handed the EU a petition signed by more than 1.3 million people backing such a move. Activists point to a 2015 study by the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) International Agency for Research on Cancer that concluded it was “probably carcinogenic.” But the European Food Safety Authority and the European Chemicals Agency both say glyphosate is unlikely to cause cancer in humans, in line with a 2016 review carried out by WHO experts and the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation.

Monsanto insists glyphosate meets the standards required to renew its European licence.

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