European Commission outlines latest glyphosate proposal

The European Commission has told those countries that wish to ban glyphosate they can do so on their own soil, rather than "hide behind" an EU-wide vote.

Monsanto's Roundup is one of many weedkiller formulations containing glyphosate. Image: Supplied
Monsanto's Roundup is one of many weedkiller formulations containing glyphosate. Image: Supplied

Public and political opposition to glyphosate use has grown after a World Health Organisation agency found in 2015 that the chemical is "probably carcinogenic". Opponents hope the EU-wide license for glyphosate use will not be renewed when it expires on June 30.

Commissioner for health and food safety Vytenis Andriukaitis has confirmed that when the Standing Committee for Plants, Animals, Food and Feed meets on Monday (6 June) it will vote on a proposal to extend glyphosate's license for up to 18 months. This "technical extension" would allow time for the European Union's Agency for Chemical Products to complete its assessment of glyphosate's safety.

The European Commission is also reviewing the conditions of use of glyphosate. It is recommended that the use of POE-tallowamine as a co-formulant should be banned, and the chemical's use should be minimised in public parks, playgrounds and gardens, and in pre-harvest use. Member states would be responsible for introducing those measures.

NFU vice-president Guy Smith is meeting with Andriukaitis today (2 June) to discuss the delay in relicensing the weedkiller.

Addressing the reluctance of some member states to take a position on glyphosate, Andriukaitis said the commission had "done its utmost" to find a workable solution accommodating the requests and concerns of a number of national governments and the European Parliament.

Yet while a majority of member states are in favour of renewal, no qualified majority has been reached. 

"I believe it is important to clarify that once an active substance is approved – or renewed at EU level – it is then up to Member States to authorise the final products (the herbicides and pesticides themselves) put on their respective markets.

"The EU approval of an active substance only means that the member states can authorise plant protection products on their territory, but they are not obliged to do that. The member states who wish not to use glyphosate based products have the possibility to restrict their use. They do not need to hide behind the Commission's decision."

The commissioner pointed out that if the EU could not approve glyphosate's license by June 30 the member states would no longer be free to choose to allow glyphosate use in their own countries.

Andriukaitis stressed that the EU's authorisation procedure for pesticides is "the strictest in the world".

"It takes years of scientific assessment before an active substance is authorised – or renewed at EU level. Our scientific process is very stringent and relies on pooling of expertise between the European Food Safety Authority and all 28 Member States.

"Our proposals and decisions on glyphosate were based on the guided assessment done by EFSA and before it - German Federal institute for Risk Assessment (Bundesinstitut für Risikobewertung). They both concluded that Glyphosate is unlikely to be carcinogenic."

The 6 June vote would extend the license long enough for the European Union's Agency for Chemical Products to "[dispel] the remaining doubts", he said.

"Under the EU law, the last word belongs to the ECHA (European Union's Agency for Chemical Products), this is why the Commission proposes to ask ECHA for its scientific assessment on the carcinogenicity of the glyphosate and to extend the current approval of glyphosate until it receives ECHA's opinion."

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