The European Commission believes a 10-year extension of glyphosate weedkiller is a “starting point” for debate and that it is the 28 EU member states which will have the final say, an EU official told EURACTIV.com.
Glyphosate is used in Roundup, a best-selling herbicide produced by US agro-chemical giant Monsanto.
Opponents of glyphosate, led by Greenpeace, point to research from the World Health Organisation suggesting it may be carcinogenic. As a result, they are calling for an outright ban.
The College of Commissioners was set to propose a 10-year renewal of glyphosate’s licence, according to media reports published yesterday (16 May).
But an EU Commission spokesperson insisted that Health Commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitis had only shared an information note with the College of Commissioners, not a formal proposal.
“On the basis of the information note, the College agreed to the approach of restarting the discussions with member states about the possible renewal of approval of glyphosate for 10 years,” said Anca Paduraru, EU Commission spokesperson for Health, Food Safety and Energy Union.
10 years is the basis
“Glyphosate is not a routine case,” Paduraru told EURACTIV. “10 years is a starting point for debate and then it’s up to the member states to decide,” she said.
Paduraru added that the Commission would work with the member states to find a solution that enjoys the “largest possible support” and ensures a high level of protection of human health and the environment, based on available scientific data.
“The approval of glyphosate-based Plant Protection Products (PPPs, e.g. pesticides), as well as their conditions of use, remain the responsibility of member states,” she noted, adding that the last year’s decision, which recommended member states apply stricter conditions of use on glyphosate-based products, remains in place.
Paduraru also explained that the executive took into account the latest scientific research, in particular, the conclusion by the European Chemical Agency’s (ECHA) Risk Assessment Committee (RAC) confirming that the active substance should not be classified as a carcinogen.
On 15 March, ECHA concluded that the available scientific evidence did not meet the criteria to classify glyphosate as a carcinogen, as a mutagen or as toxic for reproduction.
In addition, the Committee for Risk Assessment (RAC), which prepares the opinions of ECHA related to the risks of substances to human health and the environment, concluded that glyphosate should not be classified as mutagenic or toxic for reproduction.
“The same conclusion was also reached by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and by regulatory agencies in EU member states and around the world,” she said.
The European Crop Protection Association (ECPA) reacted to the 10-year proposal, calling it a “short-sighted decision” that undermines science and the EU’s approval system.
“How can the Commission justify only a proposal for 10-years now, with a clean bill of health from ECHA, when it could justify a 15-year proposal 12 months ago without one? They are giving in to the Facebook science of NGOs and activists,” said the ECPA’s director of public affairs Graeme Taylor.
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”.