The European Parliament this week (13 April) approved a seven-year extension to the authorisation of the chemical glyphosate, a suspected carcinogen present in many domestic and agricultural pesticides, notably Monsanto’s Roundup. EURACTIV France reports.
MEPs gave the go-ahead to the re-authorisation of glyphosate, but asked the European Commission to reduce the period to seven years, from the usual 15.
This is a defeat for France, which had hoped for a complete ban.
In their non-binding resolution, which passed by 374 votes to 225, with 104 abstentions, MEPs also approved a number of restrictive measures, including a ban on the sale of the chemical for use in domestic gardens and public parks.
Angélique Delahaye, a French MEP and rapporteur on the file for the European People’s Party (EPP) grouping in Parliament, said there were economic reasons to continue authorising glyphosate, despite health and environmental worries.
“The debate on glyphosate raises concerns among citizens, that’s obvious,” she said in a statement. But she recalled that farmers are “largely dependent” on the weedkiller and should be allowed to continue using it until an alternative is found.
“To this day, there is no suitable and economically viable alternative guaranteeing human health that can be proposed to farmers,” Delahaye stressed. “We must therefore think about the best solution in the medium and long term and not stick to a simple opposition of principle for electoral reasons.”
Delahaye’s argument regarding the absence of alternative is disputable since the Federal Research Centre for Cultivated Plants in Germany published a study in 2015, which concluded that farmers could largely do without glyphosate.
“Unlikely” to cause cancer
The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), part of the World Health Organisation, last year classified glyphosate as “probably carcinogenic” to humans. Glyphosate was brought into use by Monsanto in the 1970s and is used an ingredient in more than 750 herbicides around the world.
According to the Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL), an NGO, the restrictions proposed by Parliament do not go far enough, given the widespread use of the chemical and the fact that it is also suspected of being a hormone disruptor.
But despite a number of studies linking the product to human health problems, a recent evaluation of scientific evidence by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) concluded that glyphosate was “unlikely” to cause cancer.
Based on this study, the European Commission recommended that the glyphosate authorisation be renewed for a further 15 years, until 2031.
In the European Parliament, lawmakers from the Socialists and Democrats (S&D) group, the Greens, the radical left GUE/NGL and Eurosceptic EFDD group jointly submitted a resolution against the renewal of the chemical’s authorisation, which was adopted by a large majority in the Parliament’s Environment committee on 22 March.
The authors of the resolution denounced the lack of transparency surrounding the EFSA evaluation, which they said was based on unpublished studies, “at best sponsored by the agrochemicals industry and at worst written by it”.
They also called on the Commission to back-track on its authorisation plans and carry out an independent evaluation of the effects of the pesticide on human health and the environment.
Monsanto dismissed these concerns in a statement, saying “The European approval process for pesticides is rigorous and transparent. In the case of glyphosate, this has been one of the most comprehensive and thorough evaluations of an active substance ever.”
The research continues
The European Chemicals Agency (ECHA), an EU agency based in Helsinki, has launched a deeper investigation into glyphosate, the results of which should be available in 2017.
Even if the European Commission decides to renew the chemical’s authorisation, it could still overturn its decision if ECHA brings to light new evidence of a potential risk to human health.
MEPs have demanded that the EFSA publish the sources for its first evaluation, which concluded that glyphosate posed no health risk. But the 13 April resolution is not binding, and the Commission is not obliged to take it into account.