Case Study 6: Glyphosate

About the case

Glyphosate is one of the world’s most widely used herbicides, used in European agriculture to control weeds in a wide range of crops. The substance’s license was recently renewed, causing outrage and controversy due to its assumed connection to carcinogenic effects on humans and animals. Studies have both proven and disproven these carcinogenic effects, calling into question whether the substance should be discontinued until full safety is established. Additionally, glyphosate may be a hazard to habitats and biodiversity in farmlands and aquatic ecosystems, as it is non-selective and potentially harmful. Due to these potential impacts on health and biodiversity and the degree of uncertainty, the precautionary principle applies.

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The politicisation of the glyphosate renewal procedure has to be seen in the context of the larger debate surrounding the future of EU agriculture and the use of pesticides. In this regard, the application of the precautionary principle has led to increased political pressure, which is highly likely to result in some form of innovation in this area in the long run.

Brief summary of the case study

This case study analyses the role that the precautionary principle played in the EU procedures for the re-approval of glyphosate. It also discusses how the application of the precautionary principle in this case interacts with innovation and especially the ‘innovation principle’ which is recently gaining traction in the EU discourse.

A short video from the case study author

In this video, Sabrina Röttger-Wirtz, Assistant professor of EU law at Maastricht University, presents her RECIPES case study on the application of the precautionary principle in the EU renewal procedure of the glyphosate approval in 2017. The risks surrounding potential carcinogenicity, but also other risks to human health and environment are debated in the scientific community. Although the substance was not prohibited, the precautionary principle features prominently in the Pesticides Regulation which determines the re-approval procedure.



You find an article of case-study author Sabrina Röttger-Wirtz on the precautionary principle and its role in judicial review for the case of glyphosate here.


Partner: Maastricht University


Sabrina Röttger-Wirtz, Maastricht University


With thanks to: Laura Drivdal, Rosanne Edlenbosch, Tijs Sikma, Jeroen van der Sluijs, Siebe Rozendal, Ellen Vos for their insightful comments on an earlier draft.


Video recording: Sabrina Röttger-Wirtz (Maastricht University)

Animation: Lena Aebli (Ecologic Institute)

Produced by Ecologic Institute 2020,

Case Study
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