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10/12/2016

Commission expected to decide on glyphosate’s immediate future

Agriculture & Food

Commission expected to decide on glyphosate’s immediate future

Monsanto's weedkiller, Roundup.

[Global Justice Now / Flickr]

The European Commission will most likely be tasked with ending the temporary deadlock over glyphosate, after member states’ conflicting stances blocked a decision on the issue.

Glyphosate’s future is expected to be discussed in the Appeal Committee today (24 June), but it is likely to return to the European Commission hands for a final say.

The Appeal Committee was activated as member states failed to reach an agreement on the Commission’s compromise proposal on glyphosate.

Environmental groups have been calling for a ban after the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), part of the World Health Organisation, said in March 2015 that glyphosate was “probably carcinogenic to humans”.

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) said in November 2015 that glyphosate was unlikely to cause cancer in humans and proposed higher limits on the amount of residue of the weedkiller deemed safe for humans to consume.

“The Appeal Committee will take place on Friday 24 June (around noon) discuss and vote on the same proposal – an extension of current authorisation until the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) gives its opinion and not later than 31 December 2017,” European Commission spokesman Enrico Brivio told EurActiv.com.

At the EU Plants Animals Food and Feed Committee on 6 June, member states did not manage to reach a qualified majority on whether to push forward the Commission’s proposal to re-authorise glyphosate for 12-18 months, until the ECHA gives a scientific assessment of the substance.

France, Germany, and Italy abstained from the vote, while Malta was the only member state that voted against, an EU source told EurActiv.

Member states 'hiding' behind Brussels on glyphosate

A vote on whether to extend EU-wide authorisation for the controversial weedkiller Glyphosate has exposed reluctance among member states to take a clear position on a defining issue for European agriculture.

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The Appeal Committee is made up of representatives from the member states and is chaired by the Commission under the same voting rules. It is not a permanent body, but rather a procedural tool, which gives member states the opportunity to have a second discussion at a higher level of representation.

Same results expected

In case the member states vote the same way as they did in the Standing Committee, that is, no qualified majority in favor or against, there would be a “no opinion”.

EurActiv.com has learnt that in such a scenario, the matter could be discussed again at a College meeting of the Commission on June 27, after the UK referendum vote and before the European Council.

If the College makes a decision to go ahead with glyphosate’s re-authorisation, a proposal will be adopted before 30 June.

But the vast majority of the cases referred to the Appeal Committee usually return to the European Commission which has the last say.

Clash over glyphosate studies

In the meantime, Greenpeace recently blamed the Commission for not being an “honest broker” in the glyphosate discussion.

Greenpeace claims that the executive discussed with glyphosate producers how to handle a request for access to confidential industry-backed studies that allegedly clear glyphosate of a link to cancer, following criticism about the EU’s reliance on such studies.

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In addition, the environmental NGO said that Health Commissioner Andriukaitis subsequently misled MEPs about this exchange, as he denied having discussed with industry representatives preparing a public letter exchange and finding an arrangement with glyphosate producers.

Greenpeace EU food policy director Franziska Achterberg told EurActiv that Commissioner Andriukaitis said he wanted transparency, but then misled elected representatives about what he is doing behind closed doors.

“This raises serious questions about whether the Commission is an honest broker on glyphosate and whether it truly believes in open and transparent science,” Achterberg noted, adding that people deserve to see the evidence that the Commission is relying on to contradict the world’s most eminent cancer experts. “The studies must be made public,” she underlined.

The reading rooms

Commissioner Andriukaitis sent a letter on 4 April to the Glyphosate Task Force (GTF) asking for the publication of industry carcinogenicity studies on lab animals, which ESFA used as a basis for its opinion. On the same day, the GTF responded and offered the option of guarded physical reading rooms at EFSA or at German agency BVL.

Referring to Commission internal emails, Greenpeace claims that on 17 March – several weeks before the public letter exchange – EFSA, DG SANTE, the GTF and European Crop Protection Association (ECPA) had a phone call to discuss different options to deal with an access request from Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO) for three carcinogenicity studies. During the call, they also talked about the Commissioner’s letter and possible response from the GTF.

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During the same meeting, Greenpeace notes that it was finally decided that the industry was going to consider reading rooms, whether physical or virtual, something that would not please the NGOs.

The Commission’s response

Enrico Brivio told EurActiv that the executive wanted transparency regarding these studies.

“Commissioner Andriukaitis invited the Glyphosate Task Force (GTF) to publish the studies in a letter dated April 4, 2016. The Commissioner remains of the opinion that transparency as regards these studies is needed,” he said.

A source close to the issue told EurActiv that the first public appeal by Commissioner Andriukaitis to disclose all studies was made after the ENVI Council on March 4 (so before the contacts with EFSA and GFT).

“The Commission has no actual power to impose disclosure of the studies, and for that reason, it was obvious to have contacts with the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and the Glyphosate Task Force (GTF) to make them public,” the same source added.

Monsanto’s reaction

The Commission has a legal obligation to consult with the industry sector as well as other stakeholders on such issues.

Brandon Mitchener, Public Affairs Lead for Monsanto Europe which is a member of GTF, told EurActiv that the EU law on access to documents says the EU institutions have to release certain documents to the public on request but does not say how to do so.

“So it’s obvious the Commission has to consult with the owners of the documents containing business secrets on the means of complying with the access to documents request without violating legitimate, competing interests such as copyright law and the right to keep some confidential business information secret,” he stated.

Background

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) said in November 2015 that glyphosate was unlikely to cause cancer in humans and proposed higher limits on the amount of residue of the weedkiller deemed safe for humans to consume.

The EFSA advises EU policymakers and its conclusion were expected to pave the way for the 28-member European Union to renew approval for glyphosate, which was brought into use by Monsanto in the 1970s and is used in its top selling product Roundup as well as in many other herbicides around the world.

Environmental groups have been calling for a ban after the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), part of the World Health Organisation, said in March 2015 that glyphosate was “probably carcinogenic to humans”.

A campaign group said that 1.4 million people had signed a petition calling on the European Union to suspend glyphosate approval pending further assessment.

The EFSA said it had carried out a thorough analysis and taken account of the IARC’s findings. Greenpeace, for its part, called the EFSA’s report “a whitewash”.