France to ban some glyphosates over surfactant

(Dave Bedard photo)

Paris | Reuters –– France’s health and safety agency is poised to ban herbicides that combine chemicals glyphosate and tallowamine, citing concerns over possible health risks, it said Friday.

The ANSES agency sent a letter this week to manufacturers informing them that it intends to withdraw the authorization for such products, Francoise Weber, the ANSES deputy director-general, told Reuters.

The agency had reviewed products combining glyphosate and tallowamine after conclusions published in November by the European Food Safety Agency suggested there were greater potential health risks in combined use rather than when glyphosate is used alone, she said.

“It is not possible to guarantee that compositions containing glyphosate and tallowamine do not entail negative effects on human health,” Weber said.

Glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup, has stirred fierce debate over the past year since a World Health Organization body classified it as a probable carcinogenic, and EU countries are discussing whether or not to extend its EU-wide licence.

France’s environment minister has been pushing for an EU-wide ban on glyphosate-based products and is also supporting legislation that would outlaw a type of pesticide blamed for harming bees.

Tallowamine is a surfactant, used in certain herbicides to allow them to be absorbed effectively by plants. It’s combined with glyphosate in many products but a large number of glyphosate products without tallowamine are available in France, Weber said.

Glyphosate and tallowamine combinations were previously withdrawn voluntarily from the German market by manufacturers, she added.

Monsanto said the commercial impact would be “minimal” as it had already shifted away from using tallowamine in France and adopted other surfactants there.

Monsanto said it’s also seeking regulatory approvals for other new and equally effective surfactants, but doesn’t expect to have replaced tallowamine in its product line for another four to five years.

Nevertheless, the company added, tallowamines have a “long history of safe use” in herbicides and other products and are still a common surfactant in Monsanto’s Canadian glyphosate line.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reviewed the surfactant’s safety in 2009, and Health Canada’s Pest Management Regulatory Agency reviews safety data for every formulation on the market, Monsanto said.

In an emailed statement, Monsanto described the glyphosate debate in Europe as “political” and said that tallowamine-based products “do not pose an imminent risk for human health when used according to instructions.”

A final decision by ANSES on withdrawing glyphosate-tallowamine mixtures would take at least several weeks because the agency must first consider comments by the manufacturers, who have two weeks to submit arguments, Weber said.

“The elimination of glyphosate sales in France by itself should not have a material effect on Monsanto, maybe $20 million of earnings impact,” Bernstein analyst Jonas Oxgaard said in an email to Reuters (all figures US$).

“If it spreads to the rest of Europe the impact would be greater though, as Europe is a premium market; could lead to up to $100 million of earnings impact.”

Reporting for Reuters by Gus Trompiz in Paris; additional reporting by Karl Plume in Chicago. Includes files from Network staff.

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