EU committee unable to agree on glyphosate

Glyphosate's license will expire in six days unless the European Commission steps in to relicense the popular chemical, after an EU appeals committee returned "no opinion" on the matter.

Glyphosate is the active ingredient in Roundup. Image: Supplied
Glyphosate is the active ingredient in Roundup. Image: Supplied

The license for the popular weedkiller is set to expire on 30 June. EU member states have met three times to vote on whether to license the controversial chemical but have been unable to reach a qualified majority. The European Commission is now expected to override the member states and approve the proposal next week.

Today's Appeals Committee meeting was a last-ditch effort by the commission to get states to agree on a proposal to extend the license for 18 months, rather than renew it for 15 years as originally planned.

But at the meeting, France and Malta voted against the proposal and Germany, Italy, Portugal, Austria, Luxemburg, Greece and Bulgaria abstained, with the remaining 19 member states supporting the proposal. This was insufficient to supply a "qualified majority" - representing 55 per cent of member states and 65 per cent of the EU population - ending in a "no opinion" result, which was widely expected.

Commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitis has now said the European Commission will meet to discuss the next steps on 27 June. The commission is expected to extend the license until the end of 2017, to allow time for the European Chemicals Agency to complete its assessment of glyphosate.

The European Commission's decision will likely apply to the UK regardless of the Brexit vote.

The no-opinion vote was "hugely disappointing", Crop Protection Association chief executive Nick von Westenholz said.

"Over 40 years of robust scientific evidence has confirmed that glyphosate poses no unacceptable risk to human health and that there is no cancer or endocrine disruptor risk. In fact, no regulatory agency in the world classifies glyphosate as a carcinogen. This is in stark contrast to the surprising IARC classification of glyphosate as a 'probable carcinogen'.

"The World Health Organisation itself recently clarified its position at the UN’s Joint Meeting on Pesticide Residues, stating that glyphosate was 'unlikely to pose a carcinogenic risk to humans'," he said.

Von Westenholz said failing to relicense glyphosate would "provide no benefit to human health, wildlife or the environment and at the same time undermine our ability to produce a safe, affordable supply of food".

The European Crop Protection Association said the lack of a decision was "yet another blow for science-based decision making in the EU".

"ECPA shares the sentiment voiced by Commissioner Andriukaitis when he said decisions should remain based on science, not on political convenience. With this decision they cast doubt on that system, and create fear and confusion amongst Europe’s consumers - the very people the system is designed to protect.

"We hope the Commission, given that it was originally happy to propose a 15-year extension will now proceed to adopt the decision on its own, as failure to re-approve glyphosate would have significant negative repercussions for the competitiveness of European agriculture, the environment, and the ability of farmers to produce safe and affordable food."

A ban on pre-harvest use of glyphosate could gain support from some farmers, according to the Soil Association's head of farming and land use policy Emma Hockridge.

Hockridge said: "We hope that the Commission will take note of the growing body of scientific evidence regarding the impact of glyphosate use when coming to its conclusions regarding the re-licensing of glyphosate. 

"Many farmers have expressed support for a ban on pre-harvest use, as such use has led directly to glyphosate being found in our food. We also support a ban on glyphosate use in private and public green areas, such as parks and playgrounds, where children and adults have been exposed to it.

"Until recently, glyphosate was considered the world’s safest pesticide and was expected to sail through the re-authorisation process and gain approval for use for a further 15 years. We welcome the caution that European Member States have taken over re-authorising glyphosate in light of new scientific evidence, including emerging evidence that glyphosate may harm soil life."

Professor John Moverley of the Amenity Forum said it appeared the appeals committee had not based its decision on science and evidence but instead had been influenced by political pressures.

"I know that the Commissioner involved is very concerned. We remain in a confused position and not one of any merit to anyone.

"There is hope that, even at this last minute, the Commission will decide to renew. There is talk of a say a short term extension with some conditions but nothing definite. We still therefore await what will be and the clock ticks towards 30 June."

Last week BALI said a ban would make it difficult to control weeds in parks and open spaces at current levels. But it said it would "unequivocally support its immediate withdrawal if sufficient scientific evidence from acknowledged and respected expert bodies was produced that prove it to be carcinogenic and therefore harmful to human health".

Greenpeace has called for the EU to prepare an "exit plan" for glyphosate during the 18-month extension period.

Greenpeace EU food policy director Franziska Achterberg said: "The Commission is about to give glyphosate an unreasonable grace period, which will continue to leave people and nature exposed to the controversial weedkiller. It should use this time to draw up a glyphosate exit plan.

"Glyphosate is the most widely used herbicide in Europe and has been linked to serious health concerns and loss of wildlife. It’s time for Europe to plan for a glyphosate-free future."

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