An EU vote on whether or not to reapprove glyphosate was delayed on 19 May amid fierce campaigning by pro and anti-glyphosate groups, who are debating whether the weedkiller is carcinogenic or not.
A UN panel that on 17 May ruled that glyphosate was non-carcinogenic was co-run by the chairman of the UN’s joint meeting on pesticide residues (JMPR) and received a six-figure donation from Monsanto, which makes the glyphosate-based Roundup weedkiller.
Professor Alan Boobis, who chaired the UN's joint FAO/WHO meeting on glyphosate which made the statement that glyphosate was non-carcinogenic, also works as the vice-president of the International Life Science Institute (ILSI) Europe. The co-chair of the sessions was Professor Angelo Moretto, a board member of ILSI’s Health and Environmental Services Institute.
The letter was led by the American scientist Chris Portier, who it has emerged has worked part-time since 2013 with the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), a US non-governmental campaign group dedicated to "preserving natural systems" and as such Portier's EDF connections could be a conflict of interest. Portier's IARC work, which found glyphosate to be "probably carcinogenic" should have disqualified him from being involved in the glyphosate evaluation, say pro-glyphosate campaigners.
Asked by Reuters whether he had a conflict of interest, Portier said: "I agree that this has the appearance of being a conflict of interest. However, in my opinion, for this to be a real conflict of interest, I would have to be working for the EDF on pesticide related issues and/or specifically on glyphosate related issues. I am not."
The EU could be set to meet again to discuss re-registration of glyphosate on 24-25 May. The current licence expires at the end of June.
Experts from the EU's 28 nations had been due to vote on a proposal to extend by nine years licensing of the herbicide, but did not vote as no overall majority was likely to have been reached.