Glyphosate has been on the market since 1974 and authorised for use in the EU since 2000, but the science is split over whether the chemical causes cancer.
Representatives of all 28 EU countries meeting in the Standing Committee on Plants, Animals, Food and Feed (PAFF)failed to find a qualified majority on Thursday (May 19) in favour of a Commission proposal to renew glyphosate for a further nine years.
It will be essential to get France, Italy and Germany on side in the debate, which is likely togo down to the wire as the current authorisation for glyphosate runs out on June 30.
After two days of inconclusive talks in the PAFF, the Commission decided not to hold a vote on the issue and is looking at what it can do to rally support, environment spokesman Enrico Brivio said.
“We are now exploring different options,” Brivio said.
“It could be a new proposal for even a shorter period, it could be that if we don’t see any room for the support even to that, that we go to the expiration of the current authorisations,” he said.
Failure to renew the authorisation in June would lead to RoundUp and other glyphosate-based pesticides being removed from EU shelves within six months.
What does the science say?
The World Health Organisation’s International Agency for Research of Cancer (WHO/IARC) classified glyphosate as “probably carcinogenic to humans” in March 2015.
But late last year the European Food and Safety Agency (EFSA) peer reviewed the existing research and said glyphosate was “unlikely to pose a carcinogenic hazard to humans.”
On May 16 a joint committee of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the WHO also found that glyphosate was “unlikely” to pose arisk from exposure through food.
Glyphosate is pending classification by the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA), which decided to look into its toxicity on the back of concerns. It is not expected to rule before mid-2017.
Belgian MEP Bart Staes (Greens/EFA) wants the study to be trulyindependent and public.
“What we really need – and that is what the European Parliament asked for in its resolution that we voted with an overwhelming majority last April – is that we now need a really independent opinion based on facts that are public, on documents, on data that are public, that are not only coming from industry and which are not accessible,” Staes said.
“So we need to have an opinion on glyphosate in full transparency, with data that are open, that are fully accessible, so no hiding of data. I think that is very important,” he added.
Member states at odds
The Commission usually authorises substances for a 15-year period, but submitted a revised proposal for a nine-year authorisation earlier this year, taking intoaccount member states’ positions and the pending ECHA study.
The European Parliament said in an April resolution that glyphosate should be renewed for only seven years and only for professional use, given the health concerns.
But EU governments are still at odds.
According to sources, there are 19 member states in favour of authorising glyphosate, including the UK, the Netherlands, Belgium, Ireland and most eastern European member states, but they do not make up a qualified majority (65 percent of the EU population and 55 percent of EU countries).
Nine member states either oppose glyphosate or would abstain in a future vote – including France, Italy, Sweden and Germany – resulting in a de facto blocking minority against the Commission’s proposal.
Luxembourg is one of the countries likely to abstain unless changes are made to the Commission’s proposal, agriculture minister Fernand Etgen said, ECHA study or not. (audio in Luxembourgish)
“The new study won’t influence our position,” Etgen said. “We asked the EU Commission to ban or to restrict two specific uses of Glyphosate: The use of the product just before the harvest should be banned, and the use by non-professionals should be banned or restricted,” Etgen said.
“Furthermore, we demand that the approval procedure becomes more transparent. This situation with last-minute publications of new studies highlights the importance of a fundamental reform of the current procedure,” he added.
The European Crop Protection Association’s Director of Public Affairs, Graeme Taylor, said that regulatory authorities around the world have supported re-approval. “Politics is being allowed to undermine what should be a straightforward science-based approval process,” he said.
MEPees, protests and next steps
Whatever the outcome of the vote, it has aroused popular opposition across Europe.
Greenpeace, Corporate Europe Observatory and Green MEPs all oppose its authorisation.
A cross-party group of MEPs who had their urine tested last month were found to have levels 17 times higher than the European drinking water norm (0.1 microgram/litre).
Activists from the group WeMove held a protest in Brussels Wednesday (May 18), presenting a petition for an outright ban of glyphosate with over 230,000 signatures.
The Commission now has three options: make a new proposal, let the current authorisation expire in June, or extend the deadline for a decision by another six months.
- Autor: Sarah Collins, Euranet Plus News Agency
- Further image credit: (middle 1) GMO cultivation with pesticides / European Union PE-EP