EU renews glyphosate for five years as Germany swings the balance

Glyphosate will be reauthorised for five years from 15 December 2017. [Mike Mozart/Flickr]

A much-awaited qualified majority of EU member states was reached today (27 November) for the re-authorisation of the world’s most commonly used weedkiller, glyphosate.

The Appeal Committee, which consists of experts from the EU member states and the European Commission, met on Monday to discuss renewing the approval of the active substance glyphosate.

According to the Commission, a qualified majority of member states voted in favour of the Commission’s proposal for a five-year re-approval (18 in favour, nine against and one abstention). EURACTIV.com was informed that Germany voted in favour of re-approval, having previously abstained. This ensured the qualified majority for approval.

Germany’s Social Democrat Environment Minister Barbara Hendricks said the change of position had not been discussed with her and had been taken by her conservative coalition partners, Der Spiegel reports.

The minister is quoted as saying that this was a poor way to behave “if you want to build trust between partners”, referring to the ongoing coalition talks in Berlin.

18 member states voted in favour, including Poland, Bulgaria, and Romania which previously abstained, while nine member states voted against and just Portugal abstained.

“Today’s vote shows that when we all want to, we are able to share and accept our collective responsibility in decision making,” Health Commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitis said.

The Commission will now adopt the decision before the current authorisation expires on 15 December, as provided for in the applicable EU legislation.

S&D vice-president for sustainability Kathleen Van Brempt MEP commented that member states “ignored” EU citizens.

“They have turned a deaf ear to the demand of the European Parliament to phase out glyphosate. But they have also turned a deaf ear to more than a million Europeans who signed a petition to ban glyphosate and protect people and the environment from toxic pesticides.”

“Instead of deciding on a final deadline to replace this harmful substance, we now have to discuss it again in five years. Unfortunately, the member states chose to prolong this never-ending story,” she added.

WHO agency isolated in glyphosate fight

The WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) is standing firmly by its opinion that glyphosate, the world’s most commonly used weedkiller, is probably carcinogenic to humans despite a new large-scale study suggesting the opposite.

EU farmers are disappointed

Copa and Cogeca, the EU farmers’ organisation, expressed their disappointment about the decision for a five-year re-approval.

Copa and Cogeca Secretary-General Pekka Pesonen stressed although it was good news that a decision has been taken to end the uncertainty facing farmers and their cooperatives, “we are worried that the EU has agreed to re-authorise glyphosate for 5 years instead of the full 15 years”.

“It should have been re-authorised for 15 years after it was given a positive assessment by both the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), and the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA). It is vital not only to feed a growing population with reliable food supplies at affordable prices.”

Samuel White contributed to this article.

Positions

Graeme Taylor, spokesperson for the pesticide industry association ECPA, said: “We are pleased the substance has been re-approved, however not pleased that despite overwhelming scientific evidence it is only for a period of five years. This debate clearly sets many precedents for the future, and one of the most worrying is the way the movement against the substance has been driven by organisations relying on fear rather than science."

Teresa Babuscio, the secretary general of COCERAL, the European association of trade in cereals, rice, feedstuffs oilseeds, olive oil, oils and fats and agrosupply, stated "The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and the European Chemical Agency (ECHA) were certain about the safety of use of glyphosate. We must take science as our guide and rely on it, avoiding emotional debates and artificial controversies."

Angélique Delahaye, a French Republican Party MEP (EPP group), said: “Member states have finally accepted their responsibility! Let’s hope that these five years will allow us to put alternatives in place. We cannot leave the users of this substance in technical limbo, facing penalisation on the health, environmental and economic levels.”

Greens/EFA food safety spokesperson Bart Staes emphasised, "This is a dark day for consumers, farmers and the environment. The decision taken today by a narrow qualified majority of member states has locked the EU into another five years of toxic agriculture."

Reacting to the vote, Greenpeace EU food policy director Franziska Achterberg, said, “The people who are supposed to protect us from dangerous pesticides have failed to do their jobs and betrayed the trust Europeans place in them. The European Commission and most governments have chosen to ignore the warnings of independent scientists, the demands of the European Parliament and the petition signed by more than one million people calling for a glyphosate ban.”

“The threats of corporate lawsuits are of obviously of much greater concern to them than people’s health and the environment,” she added.

Genon K. Jensen, Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL) executive director said: “European governments failed European citizens and future generations today by granting the world’s most widely used weed killer a new license to harm our health and our environment, rather than setting a date to ban glyphosate once and for all.”

“Ignoring well-founded concerns about glyphosate’s impacts on human health and the European evaluation process will further damage the image of the European Union at a time of already high distrust. Putting health first today and for future generations could make Europe a frontrunner of the transition towards a more sustainable agriculture and a healthier planet, as well as reduce the risk of cancer, which affects 3.45 million new cases of cancer and 1.75 million deaths from cancer in Europe each year,”  Jensen added.

Adrian Bebb of Friends of the Earth Europe said, “Glyphosate damages nature, probably causes cancer, and props up an industrial farming system that is degrading the land we need to feed ourselves. Today’s approval, even if only for five years, is a missed opportunity to get rid of this risky weedkiller and start to get farmers off the chemical treadmill. Five more years of glyphosate will put our health and environment at risk, and is a major setback to more sustainable farming methods.”

Luis Morago, Avaaz Campaign Director, commented, "Monsanto thought they’d win 15 years of glyphosate with their eyes closed but had to fight tooth and nail for five with restrictions. Today, Germany bowed to that corporate pressure, ignoring their own citizens and the European Parliament to give the chemical industry an early Christmas present. But they are not going to be able to protect Monsanto for long from the overwhelming public opposition to poison on our food and playgrounds."