In light of heavy criticism by the EU socialists in the revived glyphosate debate, EU Commissioner for Health and Food Safety Vytenis Andriukaitis told EURACTIV.com that political opinions cannot outweigh broadly-agreed scientific opinions.
The European Commission decided this week (17 May) to restart the discussions with member states about a possible ten-year renewal of glyphosate’s licence.
Anca Paduraru, the Commission’s health spokesperson, told EURACTIV that the ten-year proposal is a “starting point” for the debate as the glyphosate issue is not a “routine case”. The final say on the exact number years is in the hands of the member states.
This prompted the reaction of socialist MEPs who suggested that the Commission is following a non-transparent process.
On 15 March 2017, the European Chemicals Agency (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. The same conclusion was also reached by EFSA.
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.
In 2016, the World Health Organisation (WHO) concluded that glyphosate is “unlikely to pose a carcinogenic risk to humans from exposure through the diet”.
However, this contradicted a previous report conducted by the WHO International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), which classified glyphosate as a “probable carcinogen” in 2015.
Not all scientific data available to the public
The group of Socialists & Democrats (S&D) in the European Parliament issued a strong statement against the executive’s decision, rejecting glyphosate’s re-authorisation for ten years.
The S&D group issued a press release stating that there was an obvious evident lack of transparency in the classification process of the European agencies.
“The classification for glyphosate, the world’s most widely used herbicidal active substance, was largely based on unpublished scientific evidence provided by the industry or supposedly independent scientific reviews sponsored by the industry,” the centre-left MEPs noted.
S&D spokesperson on agriculture Eric Andrieu said “the revelations brought to light through the Monsanto papers scandal and the ongoing litigation in the United States are changing the situation on the issue of glyphosate […] Light must be shed on all this before there is any question of renewing the approval for this potentially carcinogenic product that could affect more than 500 million Europeans.”
Green MEP Bart Staes recently told EURACTIV.de that the EFSA needs to make its findings public so they can be scrutinised.
“Of the 182 studies used to prove to the public that glyphosate does not cause cancer, 82 are not publicly available and are kept under lock and key by various companies and EFSA,” he said.
Socialist Andrieu noted that in the light of contrasting assessments on the safety of glyphosate, the socialists cannot endorse the Commission’s decision.
“It is unacceptable that the Commission ignores the voices of the 750,000 EU citizens who have already signed the European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI) demanding that the substance is banned […] this a slap in the face for all these citizens and a complete lack of respect for ECI,” Andrieu insisted.
EURACTIV was informed that the social democrats will up the pressure on the Commission to provide a more transparent process.
“If we do not get a satisfactory answer from the European Commission, the Socialists and Democrats will ask for the establishment of a Parliamentary commission of inquiry or a special committee on this subject,” S&D vice-president for sustainability Kathleen Van Brempt warned.
Politics versus science
Asked for a comment, EU Commissioner for Health and Food Safety Vytenis Andriukaitis told EURACTIV that politics should not outweigh science.
“I must be humble, I am not a scientific expert, but it seems to me that political opinions cannot outweigh broadly agreed scientific opinions,” he noted.
“As a doctor, I rely on science. Therefore, I will continue to base my decisions on science and on the rule of law,” the EU health chief added.
“I will also continue to work on sustainable EU food policy that promotes innovation, technological advancements and strives to respect environment while providing EU citizens with safe and nutritious food at affordable prices […] I invite all MEPs to be my allies in this endeavor,” he concluded.
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”.