Six member states call for glyphosate alternatives, exit plan

A Commission source told EURACTIV.com that there was not much to say at this stage and that the executive was looking at the letter in view of preparing a response. [Shutterstock]

Six member states that opposed the re-authorisation glyphosate, the world’s most commonly used weedkiller, sent a letter to the European Commission last month asking the EU executive to conduct a study and look into alternatives to the controversial substance.

In their letter to Commission First Vice-President Frans Timmermans and EU health chief Vytenis Andriukaitis, the six ministers of agriculture or environment from France, Belgium, Greece, Luxembourg, Slovenia and Malta reiterated their “concerns” about the risks of the use of glyphosate.

A Commission source told EURACTIV.com that there was not much to say at this stage and that the executive was preparing a response.

Last November, the Appeal Committee, which consists of experts from the member states and the European Commission, re-approved the controversial substance after Germany changed its mind at the very last moment and helped the EU executive reach the necessary qualified majority.

EU renews glyphosate for five years as Germany swings the balance

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.

Referring to a European citizen’s initiative signed by more than one million people who demanded a ban of the substance as well as a European Parliament resolution urging for measures to phase it out by 15 December 2022, the six ministers underlined the need for an “exit plan”.

“We invite the European Commission to accompany the decision of the renewal with measures intended to limit the risks and to prepare the exit plan for glyphosate by accompanying farmers,” the letter reads.

The member states also claimed that the executive should carry out a study on the alternatives (chemical, mechanical or biological) to the main agricultural uses of glyphosate.

We cannot stay indifferent

The letter also noted that France, the strongest opponent to glyphosate, was planning to lead a working group aiming at developing alternatives and ensuring a short-term exit.

Greek Minister of Agricultural Development Evangelos Apostolou, who also voted against the re-authorisation, emphasised in a statement that the social concern about the issue could not leave policymakers indifferent.

“It is our duty to push in the direction of risk management, in the interests of consumers, producers and the environment,” he said.

Call for a new study

In the past, the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the World Health Organisation (WHO) had approved the chemical, claiming it is “unlikely to pose a carcinogenic risk to humans from exposure through the diet”.

The same opinion was shared by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) as well as the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA).

The only body that expressed concerns about glyphosate was IARC, the International Cancer Research, which in 2015 concluded that the herbicide solution was “probably carcinogenic to humans”.

EFSA said it had carried out a thorough analysis and taken account of the IARC’s findings. Greenpeace, for its part, called EFSA’s report “a whitewash”.

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.

The six member states call for the new study to be conducted by the European agencies in cooperation with the national agencies of voluntary member states and IARC / WHO regarding the carcinogenic nature of the active substance glyphosate, as well as “obtaining and examining additional data available”.

Last but not least, the ministers also suggested the simplification of the framework governing the comparative evaluation to facilitate the substitution of substances during the examination of applications for authorization for placing on the market and the development of alternatives to chemicals.