Member states yesterday (11 July) backed a proposal by the European Commission to put limits on the use of the weed-killer glyphosate in the 28-nation bloc, including a ban on one co-formulant called POE-tallowamine, EURACTIV.com has learned.
National representatives sitting on the EU’s Standing Committee on Plants, Animals, Food and Feed, supported with a qualified majority the Commission-backed proposal, an EU spokesperson told EURACTIV.com.
Conditions include banning POE-tallowamine, a co-formulant, from all glyphosate-based herbicides, including Monsanto’s Roundup.
Polyethoxylated tallow amine (POEA) is a surfactant that enhances the activity of herbicides such as glyphosate.
Member states will now need to adjust their national legislation to make sure that pesticides containing glyphosate do not contain POE-tallowamine.
Glyphosate has come at the centre of heated controversy, with some scientific studies claiming the substance is harmless for humans – as long as sprayed correctly by farmers – and others suggesting it increases risks of cancer.
A scientific assessment by the European Food Safety Agency (EFSA), published in November last year, concluded that an exposure assessment to POE-tallowamine for operators, workers, bystanders, residents and consumers “could not be performed”.
However, the EFSA did conclude that “compared to glyphosate, a higher toxicity of the POE-tallowamine was observed on all endpoints investigated.”
Other measures approved by the EU expert panel on Monday include reinforcing the scrutiny of glyphosate use before harvest and restricting the use of the substance in areas like public parks and playgrounds.
Member states “must pay particular attention to the protection of the groundwater in vulnerable areas, in particular with respect to non-crop uses,” according to an EU regulation adopted at the committee meeting.
Overall, 22 member states voted in favour of the Commission proposal, while 6 abstained.
Countries like the UK, Italy, France backed the Commission’s proposed measures, while Germany and Malta abstained. Strangely enough, Berlin has already banned the use of tallowamine on a national level, while Valletta was the only country voting against an 18-month extension of glyphosate.
Hogan defends the Commission
On 29 June, the European Commission decided to extend the licence of glyphosate for another 18 months until the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) in Helsinki issues its own scientific assessment on the substance.
The decision came after member states failed to reach a qualified majority in favour or against the re-authorisation of the controversial weed-killer.
Speaking at the Kent County Show in the UK (8 July), Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development, Phil Hogan, again blamed the member states for the glyphosate deadlock.
“I appreciate that it is a controversial subject among some quarters, but the recent re-approval process was one in which EU member states failed to make a clear decision, knowing that their failure to do so would oblige the Commission to act,” Hogan stressed.
The EU agriculture chief added that might not be an ideal outcome for users of the products, but “it gives some comfort that the Commission has acted to ensure their continued availability”.
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”.
- European Commission fact sheet on glyphosate (29 June 2016)