Brussels-based Health and Environment Alliance (Heal) has teamed up with cancer advocacy and support groups to pressure European governments to stamp down on glyphosate, a chemical that is used in herbicides.

“With WHO’s agency on cancer saying that glyphosate is a ‘probable carcinogen’ on one hand, and European law saying that such carcinogens should not be allowed on the market on the other, we’re asking European governments to say no to this weed killer,” Lisette van Vliet, from Heal, told this newspaper during a visit to Malta.

Dr van Vliet was in Malta as Heal has teamed up with the local Action for Breast Cancer Foundation to distribute a comic strip, translated into Maltese, at primary schools. The cartoon should get eight-year-olds talking about the daily effect of exposure to chemicals, including herbicides and pesticides, which could be causing chronic diseases, Dr van Vliet said.

Apart from pesticide and herbicide residue in fruit and vegetables, traces of such chemicals are found in wheat products such as bread and cereal, she noted.

Meanwhile, herbicides are not only used in agriculture, but also in public spaces to kill weeds.

We’re asking European governments to say no to this weed killer

Getting engaged at community level and advocating against toxic chemicals in public places was all well enough, Dr van Vliet said, but to actually minimise their exposure, people had to call for a ban of such chemicals.

Glyphosate is one of the top selling active ingredients in herbicides, brought into use by Monsanto in the 1970s.

Last year, the European Food Safety Authority said glyphosate was unlikely to cause cancer in humans, however, environmental groups are still calling for a ban, especially since the Inter­national Agency for Research on Cancer, part of the World Health Organisation, said that glyphosate was “probably carcinogenic to humans”.

Three years ago, laboratory tests carried out by Friends of the Earth Malta had shown that nine out of 10 urine samples from people on the island contained traces of glyphosate, topping the list of 18 European countries that took part in the study.

However, the government had rebutted this claim, insisting that all necessary tests were carried out to ensure that any agricultural product consumed by the public was not dangerous to consumers.

Heal is now ringing the alarm again as glyphosate’s licence is up for renewal.

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