The Italian government insists that the re-authorisation of glyphosate, the world’s most commonly used weedkiller, be rejected. However, sources told EURACTIV.com that Rome is exploring the scenario of a five-year extension for an adjustment period.
“The position right now is no, but they [Italian government] are currently thinking about the time needed to adjust. So, they may support a 5-year extension,” a source close to the issue told EURACTIV at the Global Food Forum organised by think-tank Farm Europe in Treviso on Friday (19 October).
Maurizio Martina, who is Italy’s minister of agricultural, food and forestry policies, has publicly opposed the authorisation of the weedkiller. This position is in line with France.
No alla rinnovo dell'autorizzazione europea per il Glifosate. Italia leader agricoltura sostenibile #StopGlifosato
— Maurizio Martina (@maumartina) October 3, 2017
The same source said that Martina’s stance on the issue is critical, as he is now the “number two” in the Democratic Party after Matteo Renzi, since becoming deputy secretary in May 2017.
Considering the media attention that glyphosate has attracted and ahead of the Italian election next year, the government in Rome wants to avoid giving the anti-establishment Five Star Movement room to electorally exploit the issue.
The European Food Safety Authority and the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) have greenlighted the re-authorisation but critics point out the International Agency for Research on Cancer’s (IARC) classification of glyphosate as “probably carcinogenic”.
A meeting of the European Commission’s Standing Committee on Plants, Animals, Food and Feed is scheduled to take place on Wednesday (25 October) but Health Commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitis has left the door open for a vote until the end of the year, when glyphosate’s authorisation ends.
“We will continue our meetings and we will see the discussion with the member states. It’s possible we will have a vote in November, it is possible until the end of December,” the EU Commissioner told EURACTIV.
Andriukaitis recently attacked the member states, saying that they are hiding behind the Commission on the issue, and warned that if no qualified majority is ensured the controversial chemical substance will be banned by the end of the year.
For that reason, the industry has already sent legal notifications to the Commission warning of further legal action.
De Castro: Shorter extension
Italian S&D group MEP Paolo De Castro told EURACTIV that in this case, science has to be trusted and the “ideological approach” should be avoided.
However, he opposed the Commission’s ten-year re-authorisation proposal.
“At least we need to trust our EU agencies but we have to move towards a shorter approval like five years,” he said.
“I understand Maurizio Martina who is trying to reach a majority on a more consumer-focused approach but of course I am in the European Parliament. On this point, we are not on exactly the same page, as it happens,” he added.
In the meantime, the European Parliament’s environment, public health and food safety committee urged the European Commission last week to “adopt necessary measures to phase out the active substance glyphosate in the European Union by no later than 15 December 2020”.
But Italian farmers are concerned about the consequences of a glyphosate ban on their competitiveness and potentially increased overhead costs.
“We need to trust science and the EU authorities that have already given evidence that glyphosate is safe. Our farmers need to compete on a global level. Outside the EU, rules are softer and our farmers are suffering,” told EURACTIV Massimiliano Giansanti, President of Italian agricultural organisation Confagricoltura.
“In light of the lack of level playing field, the aim of the EU should be the increase of competitiveness in the real economy and decisions based on science,” he noted.
A ‘disastrous’ precedent
For Graeme Taylor, a spokesperson for the European Crop Protection Association, a ban would set a disastrous precedent.
“If the safest molecule that has ever been on the market cannot be re-approved, then what does that mean for every other molecule that comes out in the future and the viability of farmers’ business,” he wondered, adding that currently there is no viable replacement for glyphosate.
“EFSA and ECHA are clear, and the World Health Organisation as well: 90,000 pages of studies and regulatory authorities around the world say glyphosate is safe and it should be re-approved, but in Brussels, it has become an emotional and political debate.”