Austria set to be first EU country to ban all uses of weedkiller glyphosate

VIENNA, July 2 (Reuters) - Austria was set on Tuesday to ban all uses of the weedkiller glyphosate, the first European Union country to take such drastic action against the chemical over concerns that it can cause cancer.

Other EU countries have passed partial bans of glyphosate, developed by Bayer-owned Monsanto, although France has lowered its ambitions on a ban, highlighting its usefulness in agriculture. Austria has embraced organic farming more than other EU members.

“The scientific evidence of the plant poison’s carcinogenic effect is increasing. That is why we are submitting a bill for a total ban of glyphosate,” the leader of Austria’s Social Democrats, Pamela Rendi-Wagner, said in a statement on Monday.

The leader of the far-right Freedom Party, Norbert Hofer, said on Tuesday it would vote in favour of the bill. The two parties together have a majority of seats in the lower house of parliament, meaning the bill was very likely to pass when it is put to a vote, probably later on Tuesday.

Glyphosate was developed by Monsanto under the brand Roundup. It is now off-patent and marketed worldwide by dozens of other chemical groups including and Dow Agrosciences and Germany’s BASF.

Concerns about its safety emerged when a World Health Organization agency concluded in 2015 that it probably causes cancer. Bayer, which acquired Monsanto last year, says studies and regulators have deemed glyphosate and the Roundup weedkiller safe for human use, but it faces lawsuits over claims the product causes non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

Austria has the highest proportion of organic farmland in the European Union - roughly 23%, far above the EU average of 7%, according to EU data for 2017 here, and its pristine mountain landscapes are one of its biggest tourist attractions.

However, Austria’s sustainability ministry, which is responsible for farming and the environment, said it believed a ban would be contrary to EU law because glyphosate is cleared for use in the bloc until December 2022.

Austria is currently led by a provisional government of civil servants, not politicians, ahead of a parliamentary election expected in September. Political parties are forming shifting alliances to pass laws that appeal to their voters before parliament goes into recess this week until the election. (Reporting by Francois Murphy Additional reporting by Sybille de la Hamaide and Gus Trompiz in Paris; Editing by Susan Fenton)