Commission to temporarily re-approve glyphosate without member states’ go-ahead

The current marketing authorisation for glyphosate in the EU is set to expire in mid-December. [EPA-EFE/OLIVIER HOSLET]

Member states once again blocked the Commission’s proposal to extend the marketing authorisation of the herbicide glyphosate for another year, but the EU executive is set to still approve an interim renewal before mid-December.

On Tuesday (15 November), an appeal committee made up of member states’ representatives did not reach the necessary majority to give green light to an interim EU approval for glyphosate as an active substance in plant protection.

Glyphosate is the most widely used herbicide as an active substance in plant protection. The question of renewal has been highly controversial as views diverge over glyphosate’s impact on health and the environment.

The temporary extension of glyphosate marketing authorisation for an extra year was proposed by the European Commission since the current authorisation is set to expire in mid-December while the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) reassessment of the active substance will only become available in July 2023.

In October, EU countries blocked the Commission’s proposal at the Standing Committee of the EU Commission on Plants, Animals, Food and Feed (SCoPAFF), prompting the EU executive to appeal.

However, the second attempt to pass the regulation failed again on Tuesday (15 November) as, once again, there was no majority among member states in favour of glyphosate re-approval.

Contacted by EURACTIV, a Commission’s spokesperson expressed ‘regret’ that “despite a majority of member states supporting the Commission’s proposal, the necessary qualified majority was unfortunately not reached.”

The ball is now back again in the Commission’s court, as the College of Commissioners could now approve the rules on its own.

“The Commission now has a legal obligation to take a decision before the expiration deadline in mid-December,” the Commission spokesperson said.

The EU spokesperson confirmed to EURACTIV that the EU executive will now proceed to adopt the regulation that will extend the approval period of glyphosate by one year, namely until 15 December 2023.

Temporary extension of EU glyphosate approval hits roadblock

Several member states blocked the temporary extension of the EU approval of the controversial pesticide glyphosate for one more year on Friday (14 October) after it failed to reach the necessary majority.

However, the campaign group Pesticide Action Network (PAN Europe) still hopes that the Commission could ultimately change its mind proposing an immediate ban on the pesticide instead of giving a ‘blank cheque’ to glyphosate for another year.

“Today’s vote is a strong signal towards the European Commission that we need to phase out glyphosate once and for all,” said Gergely Simon, PAN Europe’s chemical officer.

On the other hand, the Glyphosate Renewal Group (GRG) – a group of agrochemical companies which together are applying for the substance’s renewed approval – is confident that the current approval will be ultimately extended to allow sufficient time for the EU agencies to conclude the ongoing scientific evaluation.

“Every other plant protection active substance that has needed this type of temporary administrative extension in the EU has been granted the extension,” said the group in a statement.

Representatives of the member states will then have the chance to vote, once again, on the future of glyphosate, based on the conclusions of the assessment by the EU’s chemicals agency (ECHA) and Food Safety Authority (EFSA), due mid 2023.

Whether glyphosate can be classed as a carcinogen – that is, whether it is a driver for cancer in humans – is one of the most hotly contested issues around the herbicide, with stakeholders, the scientific community and different public agencies divided.

For its part, the World Health Organisation’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) evaluated the substance as “probably carcinogenic”, while the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has concluded it is “unlikely to pose a carcinogenic risk” to humans when consumed through their diet.

EU agencies push back glyphosate assessment to mid-2023

Due to an unprecedented flood of stakeholder input, relevant EU agencies announced their risk assessment on glyphosate will only come in mid-2023, even though the herbicide’s current approval will expire by the end of this year.

[Edited by Nathalie Weatherald]

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