Monsanto business manager Gary Philpotts remains "hopeful" that the £70m-a-year UK consumer glyphosate market, dominated by Monsanto product Roundup, can be saved despite an EU MEP environment committee recommendation to the European Commission to ban use in homes, public gardens and amenity.
The outcome of the vote saw MEPs recommend a seven-year extension for glyphosate use, but not in parks, public gardens or retail sales and not for the 15 years in the original plan. "It's a shame the whole process has been over-politicised," said Philpotts. "The proposal is not science-based, though it is a proposal and is not binding."
He said continuation of retail sales is "possible" after a binding decision by the Standing Committee on Plants, Animals, Food & Feed (PAFF), which will vote to adopt the commission proposal (that glyphosate be relicensed) by qualified majority at its 18-19 May meeting. If there is no qualified majority it is then up to the commission to decide.
Philpotts warned it will be the "end of glyphosate" for retail use if PAFF goes with the environment committee recommendation. "Gardeners all over Europe choose glyphosate as the go-to product for controlling weeds and having a very low impact on the environment," he added. "Some alternative products don't have such a low impact."
He said in France, when environment minister Segolene Royal singled out glyphosate as a product she wanted to ban for home and garden use by 2019, sales went up, showing consumer confidence. "There is no indication sales are being affected by any of this noise," he said. "The science is overwhelming for glyphosate renewal. Roundup would be sellable until at least June 2018 even if banned in May."
However, more retailers are under pressure to drop glyphosate-based weedkillers after Waitrose stopped selling the best-selling product last month. Pesticides Action Network (PAN) campaigns director Nick Mole said: "I think it (the EC vote) is a clear indication that the people of the EU no longer want to see the probable human carcinogen on the shelves.
"Retailers will have to think very hard about following the lead of Waitrose and I would be surprised if many do not start removing glyphosate products from sale as a result. There's a lot for the retailers to take in. I'm hopeful most will send a considered response but they are likely to wait until the vote in May."
Waitrose dropped glyphosate-based Roundup this year but no other big retailer has followed suit, despite renewed calls from PAN.
Mole said Waitrose had reiterated to him that it dropped Roundup for commercial reasons and has not said it was because of health concerns. Waitrose previously banned suppliers using three neonicotinoids in 2013.
The Crop Protection Association (CPA) said it has not heard of any other retailers planning to follow suit, but it pointed out that Roundup was unlikely to have been a big seller for Waitrose while it is for other retailers written to by PAN in 2015. PAN asked Tesco, Wilko, Wickes, Sainsbury's, The Range, Notcutts, Morrisons, Lidl, Home Retail Group, Dobbies, Co-op, Asda, Aldi and Amazon "to follow the example of German and Swiss retailers who have already voluntarily stopped selling glyphosate".
Mole added: "B&Q were the only ones that showed any interest. The rest just said it was approved so they would carry on selling it." The CPA said the reaction to Waitrose's move has been "low key".
Waitrose said it had stopped selling Roundup last month, becoming the first big UK retailer to do so after responding to a Care2 petition signed by 90,000 people opposed to the chemical's use.
The CPA said: "It is a rash response to a misinformed public campaign. They sell products that IARC classifies as posing a higher risk to human health, such as alcohol or processed meats (both classified by IARC in category 1 - carcinogenic to humans) yet they trust consumers to use these products responsibly and don't remove them from sale. Why should glyphosate be any different?"
The association argued that Care2 was confused in thinking glyphosate has any impact on bees, which was the focus of the pressure group's letter to Waitrose, which responded by saying: "We're committed to protecting our pollinators and after careful consideration decided to remove this product from our business."
Rapporteur member state Germany's BFR (equivalent to the UK's Chemical Registration Directorate) produced a report stating glyphosate is not carcinogenic. This was peer reviewed by the European Food Safety Authority, which recommended relicensing the weedkiller. The CPA said it is the expert regulator of the EC but other scientific opinions have been allowed into the process.
Vitax sales manager Colin Wetherley-Mein said: "No one had showed us a significant risk on glyphosate. It would be sad for the trade if another product was taken off the marketplace." Beckworth Emporium horticulture manager Mike Easom said he has ordered half his usual Roundup quantities this year because he fears bad press on social media will influence sales.