'Clean label' glyphosate could be reapproved

EU decision-makers could vote to reapprove "clean label" formulations of glyphosate, according to an industry expert.

Strasbourg: MEPs called for an independent review and for EFSA to disclose evidence used to assess glyphosate
Strasbourg: MEPs called for an independent review and for EFSA to disclose evidence used to assess glyphosate

At a meeting in Brussels in early March, all 28 EU member states were expected to endorse a European Commission proposal to extend authorisation of glyphosate for 15 years until 2031. But the vote was postponed after several member states refused to approve the chemical.

They were concerned that while the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) says glyphosate is safe, the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) says it is "probably carcinogenic".

Environment Committee MEPs have since called for an independent review and for the EFSA to disclose all the scientific evidence it used to assess glyphosate before a decision is made.

The existing licence for glyphosate expires at the end of June and a decision must be made by then.

Neil Huck, technical director at trade body BALI and vice-president of the European Landscape Contractors Association (ELCA), understands the likely outcome is that "safer" formulations of glyphosate will get re-approval. These could include products such as Roundup's "Biactive", which is formulated to be safe for aquatic wildlife.

Glyphosate is sold mixed with adjuvants such as wetting agents and penetrants to make it more effective, but some of these chemicals pose health risks. Huck said the latest information he has received is that those with safer co-formulations will get a pass, while those mixed with "industrial grade" co-formulations could see their licence expire.

He explained: "There are quite a few different products on the market which are very cheap, but are also causing a lot of problems. The actives cause eye irritation and respiratory tract irritation if you breathe in the vapour. We don't use those as a company, but some people do. The information I've been told is that more than likely they will no longer be allowed."

Huck - who is also training director at national green services provider Ground Control - says the banning of such products would be a positive for the public and for those doing the spraying.

"It does cause problems with members of the public, because it stings. We do a lot of our work in public areas, so we made it a policy that we wouldn't use those products."

But he reiterated: "The glyphosate molecule (itself) has no health risks from what we can see - there is no evidence of it causing problems anywhere in the world. We are hoping that it gets reapproval because nothing else on market will fit that particular niche."

John Moverley, chairman of the Amenity Forum, said it is important to allow the EU pesticide review process to complete its course before speculating on the outcome.

But he pointed out both the EFSA and the German regulatory authority reviewed a much wider range of data than the IARC, and both concluded glyphosate is not carcinogenic.

"So on the basis of all known facts, we can at this point in time say that even the extremely conservative and precautionary EU regime views glyphosate as being able to be used without unacceptable risks to people or the environment."

The Standing Committee on Plants, Animals, Food and Feed (Phytopharmaceuticals Section) will vote to adopt or reject the proposal to approve glyphosate in May. Moverley added: "There have (been) and will continue to be those who object to pesticides for a variety of reasons. However, the view in the UK, both at regulatory level and by the Forum representing the sector, is that all decisions should be based upon the science and evidence and the established review process conducted has been very thorough and rigorous."

Nick von Westenholz, chief executive of the Crop Protection Association, urged EU member states to "listen to the scientific advice of expert regulators and agree to relicense glyphosate".

"As an industry we take pride in the fact that our products are demonstrably safe. Pesticides are among the most heavily regulated products in Europe and it currently takes about 10 years, costing over £150m to bring an active ingredient to market. It is this process, backed by effective and independent regulatory scrutiny, that ensures the public can have absolute confidence in our products."

Meanwhile, efforts to move away from glyphosate continue in the UK at a grassroots level, with Waitrose making the "commercial decision" to pull Roundup from its shelves, and Brighton and Hove Council voting on 24 March to seek alternatives to glyphosate.

The council's weed control contract is up for renewal in April 2017. From July this year council officers will trial new forms of weed control, with a report due back to council in November 2016, prior to the commencement of the new contract.

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