The European Commission has decided to extend the licence for glyphosate by 18 months, after member states failed to achieve a qualified majority in favour or against the executive’s proposal.
Both NGOs and the industry criticised the Commission’s final decision on glyphosate, an active ingredient used in Monsanto’s RoundUp, the world’s most widely sold herbicide.
Last Friday (24 June) at the Appeal Committee, EU member states voted on the proposal to extend the current approval of glyphosate for a limited period of time, until the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) gives an opinion on the substance.
ECHA’s opinion is expected no later than 31 December 2017.
— European Commission (@EU_Commission) June 29, 2016
In a previous vote on 6 June, member states in the Standing Committee on Plants, Animals, Food and Feed had already failed to reach a qualified majority in favour or against the re-authorisation of glyphosate.
“The Commission regrets that no decision could be taken by the member states, in spite of its efforts over recent weeks to accommodate requests and concerns from a number of national governments, as well as from the European Parliament,” an EU spokesman told euractiv.com.
“We know very well that we have a deadline of June 30. We will adopt an extension for glyphosate of 18 months,” Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, Vytenis Andriukaitis, stressed.
Citizens and NGOs have long campaigned against the licence being renewed, given widely-reported concerns about the possible consequences it could have on human health and the environment. Glyphosate is in fact an omnipresent force in Europe, as a German study showed that traces of it have been found in 99.6% of the country’s population.
Concentrations of the herbicide in urine samples were found to be between five and 42 times higher than the maximum amount permitted in drinking water in Europe.
France is leading the fight against glyphosate’s continued use, after a petition launched by Foodwatch, Générations Futures and the Ligue contre le cancer garnered around 156,000 signatures. The NGOs claimed that “69% of French people are against re-authorisation”.
The controversy has been fuelled by the conflicting conclusions of a number of official bodies on the dangers of glyphosate, as well as lingering doubts about the assessment tools used by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).
The EFSA has essentially ruled that glyphosate is non-carcinogenic, in contrast to the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), which judged it to be “probably carcinogenic”. The results of the EFSA study have been criticised by NGOs for relying heavily on data supplied by agrochemical giant Monsanto.
Générations Futures has even taken the step of lodging a complaint of aggravated fraud with the public prosecutor’s office in Paris, alleging that numerous agencies had “underestimated the dangers posed by glyphosate”.
The French government, as well as Malta, came out against reauthorisation; seven countries abstained from the last vote, as they all uphold the precautionary principle.
Additionally, France has classed glyphosate as an endocrine disruptor since 2011. The country’s health minister, Marisol Touraine, added that “regardless of the debate on whether it is carcinogenic or not, we believe, and our studies show, that it is an endocrine disruptor”.
Marc Tarabella MEP (S&D group) denounced the Commission’s decision to renew the licence, calling it “an absurd decision”. The Belgian politician added that “Monsanto’s profit has been put before the health of 500 million Europeans” and he accused the European institutions, multinational companies and national governments of being “deaf, blind and mute”, respectively.
Another report published in June by the World Health Organisation suggested that glyphosate was unlikely to cause cancer. The review, carried out by pesticide experts from the WHO and the Food and Agriculture Organisation said “glyphosate is unlikely to pose a carcinogenic risk to humans from exposure through the diet”.
This contradicted earlier studies by a WHO agency which classified the substance as “probably” carcinogenic.
Industry not satisfied
The pesticides industry is not pleased either with the final outcome of the process.
Graeme Taylor, European Crop Protection spokesperson, noted that this was not a victory for the industry.
“I’m sure many will paint this as some kind of victory for our industry, but frankly we are disappointed that after the European Commission originally proposed a 15-year re-approval, we are now left with an 18-month extension, pending yet another assessment to add to the 90,000 pages and 3,500 studies of evidence that already exists,” he stressed, adding that this only serves to demonstrate that what should be a scientific process “has been completely undermined by politics”.
— Sam James Morgan (@SamJamesMorgan) June 29, 2016