Glyphosate, the issue poisoning Macron's government

Jean-François Monier, AFP

French President Emmanuel Macron made a campaign promise: to ban glyphosate, the weedkiller sold under the Roundup brand. But last week, his party’s lawmakers rejected an amendment to do that, raising accusations they are beholden to the farm lobby.


The night of Friday, September 14 was a long one for the members of parliament who had gathered at the National Assembly for a second reading of the draft Agriculture and Food Law. It left an especially a bitter taste in the mouths of many of them, particularly that of François-Michel Lambert, a member of Macron’s LREM (Republic on the Move) party who had just seen his amendment calling for a complete ban on the sale and use of glyphosate by 2021 voted down.

"I was really surprised that it lost by four votes," the former member of the Europe Ecology-The Greens party told FRANCE 24. "To make sure that the measure wouldn’t pass, some of those opposing it took advantage of the end of a committee of economic affairs meeting at 2am to round up deputies who are indifferent to sustainable development. They came into the chamber just for this vote and then they left."

As a result, the amendment narrowly failed, with 42 votes against and 35 in favor. For the second time in six months, French MPs rejected a ban on the most used herbicide in the world. Although no scientific study has verified the dangers of the substance, the World Health Organization (WHO) has described it as "probably carcinogenic" since 2015. In August, a San Francisco court ordered Monsanto to compensate a terminally ill groundskeeper who said Roundup, the brand name under which US agro-giant Monsanto markets the weedkiller, caused his cancer.

Decisions made upstream

Even more surprisingly, 34 LREM MPs voted against banning the herbicide, undermining Macron’s campaign promise. "Sincerely, I don’t understand; when we talk about it among ourselves, everyone wants to ban glyphosate, but in the end, some people voted no because they were told to,” Lambert said.

The discord within the party has sown confusion. "This dissension within LREM highlights the mode of operation of the majority: its system of governance prohibits any debate in the National Assembly," Lambert said, implying that decisions are made upstream. The amendment was rejected despite providing "room to maneuver so that farmers wouldn’t be penalized," he said.

Some members of government worry that shouldering the cost of a ban would put undue pressure on farmers. Minister of Agriculture Stéphane Travert, who opposed the amendment, is in that camp. He believes a law banning the substance isn’t necessary.

"The position of France is now known," he said, explaining that the government still hopes to meet Macron’s goal of being glyphosate-free in three years, but thinks the country should do so in a manner that allows farmers enough time to find alternatives.

For its part, the opposition was quick to highlight the paradox in the government’s approach. "It would have been so simple to demonstrate that commitment by inscribing it in the law,” Socialist MP Luc Carvounas said in an interview with FRANCE 24.

'LREM MPs are lobbyists'

As soon as the vote was over, Carvounas took to Twitter to denounce the victory of powerful lobbies. "The LREM MPs are lobbyists,” he said, “They say it themselves, they come from the pharmaceutical world because they have a foot in business or want to put a foot in it… it's the trademark of this majority."

Lambert simply sees "a political mistake" on the part of the LREM representatives. "Glyphosate will have almost disappeared in 2021, but there will be no political benefit for the party," he said, pointing to neonicotinoids as an example. A ban on these “bee killer” pesticides came into effect on September 1. Several members of government praised the measure, including Macron, who extolled France’s “commitment to biodiversity in action,” suggesting that his government had initiated the measure. In truth, the ban on neonicotinoids was passed in 2016 during the presidency of François Hollande.

Many members of parliament are frustrated that they weren’t able to live up to the public’s expectations on outlawing glyphosate at a time when the population is clearly hostile to the herbicide. More than eight out of ten people in France believe that the weedkiller is "potentially dangerous for health" and should be banned, according to a survey published in October 2017. "LREM has decided to listen to the 22% who think that the environment is not an emergency,” Lambert lamented.

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