Stalemate at EU glyphosate talks, no vote taken

By Jane Byrne

- Last updated on GMT

© istock
© istock

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The glyphosate dossier is to be handed over to the Commission, following on from the PAFF committee's failure today to generate a vote on the controversial herbicide.

The EU Standing Committee on Plants, Animals, Food and Feed (PAFF), where all 28 EU countries are represented, discussed the possible renewal of glyphosate over the past two days. 

The Commission had made it clear that it needed a solid qualified majority (QM) of member states to go to a vote on the pesticide authorization approval.

Media reports yesterday had indicated that 19 countries were in favour of renewal, but, in the end, the representatives failed to break the deadlock in those talks.

“Since it was obvious that no qualified majority would have been reached, a vote was not held,”​ an EU Commission spokesperson told FeedNavigator.

Next Steps

It is now in the hands of the EU executive to decide on the licensing of the herbicide. “The Commission will reflect on the outcome of the discussions,” ​he said.

“If no decision is taken before June 30, glyphosate will be no longer authorized in the EU and member states will have to withdraw authorizations for all glyphosate based products,”​ added the Commission representative.

The discussions at the PAFF meeting had focused on whether to keep glyphosate on the EU list of approved active substances.

Leaked reports had suggested the Commission more recently was considering approval of the herbicide for 10 years only, and not the originally proposed 15 years.

In terms of next steps over the following six weeks, the glyphosate dossier could be reviewed by an appeals committee, after that it would go to the College of Commissioners for evaluation, so the door remains open for potential renewal of the herbicide.

The Glyphosate Task Force (GTF), a consortium of companies backing the continued use of the herbicide in the EU, said it considers the absence of a vote at the PAFF meeting "discriminatory, disproportionate and wholly unjustified."

Richard Garnett, GTF chair, added: “Ultimately, failure to follow the process appropriately and within a reasonable timeframe will only serve to seriously undermine the credibility of the EU legislative framework and put European agriculture at a competitive disadvantage."

Commenting on the stalemate, Greenpeace EU food policy director, Franziska Achterberg, said: “This is the second time the Commission has failed to get the backing of EU governments for the re-approval of glyphosate. This is no surprise, since the Commission has continued to ignore the concerns of independent scientists, MEPs and EU citizens. It’s time for the Commission to change course.”

WHO report

Environmental campaigners have been arguing that glyphosate should be banned on the grounds that it could be linked to cancer.

In the EU glyphosate is an herbicide, mainly used to combat weeds. For cereals, and in other crops, glyphosate is used in pre-planting, after harvest and before sowing, and in pre-emergence, which is the period after sowing and before crop emergence.

Under some conditions and, if needed, glyphosate can also be used in pre-harvest, to clean the field and allow harvest of arable crops.

Other uses for glyphosate are for no-till and min-till or to combat alien invasive species.

But a joint FAO/WHO meeting on pesticide residues (JMPR)​ earlier this month concluded glyphosate is unlikely to pose a carcinogenic risk to humans from exposure through the diet.

That review would appear to contradict the March 2015 findings of another WHO body, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), which classified glyphosate then as “probably carcinogenic to humans.”

The assessment from the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) on the glyphosate in November last year found that the substance was “unlikely”​ to be carcinogenic.

In April, the EU Parliament voted in favour of a non-binding resolution proposing the Commission renew the glyphosate but only for seven years. The MEPs also called for an independent review and full disclosure of all the scientific evidence EFSA used in its November 2015 risk assessment.

This week saw France say it would ban glyphosate regardless of whether the Commission decides to reauthorize it.   

EU farm lobby in renewal calls 

Secretary general of EU farm lobby, Copa and Cogeca, Pekka Pesonen, told this publication previously: "European farmers hope that the active substance will remain in the market and we are pressing to keeping it. The reports from both the rapporteur member state, Germany, and EFSA have shown that the active substance is not [one] of high concern for human and animal health or for the environment."

He said Copa and Cogeca have always supported science-based decision making and the role of EFSA as risk assessor in terms of the EU regulatory process: “Therefore, we consider that the EU Commission and the member states should proceed accordingly and renew the approval of glyphosate.”

Glyphosate provides three main benefits deriving from the single market, said Pesonen. "It is authorised in all member states; it has a wide range of uses adapted to different production conditions; and it is sold at a cost-effective price. At the moment, there is no single alternative fulfilling all these criteria,”​ he said.

Copa and Cogeca said not approving the active substance would, in fact, benefit third countries that export to the EU, as glyphosate would still be part of farmers’ toolbox in third countries. It said this would result in a clear competitive disadvantage for European agriculture.

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