European farmers say glyphosate deadlock shows mistrust in EU bodies

Copa-Cogeca Secretary-General Pekka Pesonen is insisting that glyphosate should be granted a full 15-year-long reauthorisation. [European Committee of the Regions/Flickr]

EU farmers’ union Copa-Cogeca has rejected the Commission’s revised proposal for a five year re-authorisation of glyphosate, claiming that such a proposal would “undermine” credibility in the EU institutions. Instead, they suggest a full 15-year re-approval.

Copa and Cogeca Secretary-General Pekka Pesonen insists that assessments by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) gave the green light for the weedkiller’s re-authorisation.

“There should be no question but to re-authorise its use for the full 15 years. Important decisions like this should not be based on emotion or politics. If it’s not renewed for the full term, all credibility in the EU institutions and decision-makers will be lost,” Pesonen warned.

British farmers’ boss: I hope outside the EU, decisions will be science-based

The leader of Britain’s farming union, Meurig Raymond, hopes that the agriculture-related decisions made in London after his country leaves the EU will be more science-based and less emotional than is currently the case in Europe.

Food safety agencies in 28 member states agree with EFSA and ECHA assessments, EU sources claim. Based on these assessments, the Commission is pushing for the re-authorisation of glyphosate and, in an effort to reach the largest possible majority, it proposed a five year re-approval.

But critics point to the International Agency for Research on Cancer’s (IARC) classification of glyphosate as “probably carcinogenic”, with France among the countries that oppose the re-authorisation of the weedkiller.

ANSES, the French agency for food, said on 9 February that the level of evidence of carcinogenicity in animals and humans is considered relatively limited and cannot be presumed to be carcinogenic to humans.

It also said that ECHA should review the classification of glyphosate. It did so in March saying that glyphosate weedkiller should not be classified as a carcinogen.

EURACTIV.com asked the French ministry of agriculture whether the government is questioning ANSES’s assessment but received no reply at time of publication.

The Standing Committee on Plant Animal Food and Feed, which consists of member state experts and the Commission, met on 25 October to discuss renewing the licence for the controversial weedkiller, which is produced by Monsanto and others.

But no vote took place, as a qualified majority among EU member states could not be reached supporting the executive’s proposal.

An EU spokesperson told EURACTIV that the period of five years takes into account the latest resolution adopted by the European Parliament, which urged for a full ban on glyphosate-based herbicides by December 2022.

It also considered the European Citizens Initiative, which gathered more than 1.3 million signatures calling for a European ban over fears that it causes cancer.

Another vote is scheduled to take place at the next Committee meeting on 9 November, while the current approval of glyphosate expires on 15 December 2017.

Member states divided

Two competing blocking minorities have been formed. A majority of 16 member states led by Romania, Ireland, UK, Poland and Spain have backed a 10-year re-authorisation of the substance and they reportedly refuse to limit it to five.

On the other side, a minority mainly led by France wants to further water down the 5-year proposal.

Germany, currently holding coalition talks, abstained on the vote, along with Portugal. According to sources, glyphosate producer Monsanto would prefer re-authorisation before a new government is formed in Berlin.

Spanish website Agropopular quoted centre-right MEP Esther Herranz as saying that the European People’s Party (EPP) would back the re-authorisation of glyphosate.

“The EPP is in favor of the extension that allows the Spanish and Riojan (a Spanish province) farmers to continue using the herbicide glyphosate […] this is the position that the government of Spain will defend in the next Council of Ministers,” she said.

Moreover, Dutch Minister of Agriculture Carola Schouten told her country’s parliament that there was no legal possibility of incorporating a phase-out into the approval decision itself.

She added, though, that she was in favour of working on alternatives to glyphosate, together with other member states and the agricultural sector.

But finding an alternative does not seem like an easy task.

French MEP Angélique Delahaye recently told EURACTIV that it would be difficult to find an alternative within five years; however, she did not entirely rule it out.

The appeal committee

The Commission has repeatedly stated that glyphosate will not be renewed without the necessary support from the member states and EU Commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitis has called on EU governments to take on their responsibilities and stop hiding behind the executive.

Asked whether the Commission will refer to the appeal committee, EU sources said nothing could be said at this stage, before knowing the outcome of the Standing Committee on 9 November.

“Unless the Commission decides to submit yet another revised draft proposal to the Standing Committee, the five-year one should go to the appeal committee,” the sources explained.

According to the procedures provided in the Lisbon Treaty, the qualified majority in the Standing Committees is the 55% majority (16 member states) representing 65% of population.

If no qualified majority is reached either in favour or against a Commission’s proposal, then the executive can submit the same or an amended proposal to the so-called appeal committee, which is also composed of member states representatives. But in this case, there is no debate but only a vote.

If still “no opinion” prevails, then the Commission has to take responsibility for the final decision. If it doesn’t, then the executive will be taken to the European Court of Justice for failure to act. Monsanto and others have already notified legal notices to the executive.

Sources noted that abstentions and absences are also taken into account and weight as vote against in the overall calculation.

What do EFSA and ECHA say?

In an interview with EURACTIV in June, EFSA’s boss Bernhard Url explained that it was a highly political decision that can only be taken by risk managers.

“There we have a comitology procedure in Europe, which means that the Commission decides along with the member states.”

ECHA also keeps its distance from the political level. Contacted by EURACTIV, an ECHA’s spokesperson said that the agency’s role in this case was to provide an independent scientific opinion on hazards of glyphosate for the Commission and EU member states’ decision making.

“From ECHA’s point of view the decision on renewing the approval for glyphosate needs to be made on the political level and we have no comments on that process. However, we naturally expect that if scientific evidence is being used as a basis of any political decision, independent scientific opinions from the EU Agencies should be taken into consideration,” ECHA’s official pointed out.