Renewal of glyphosate in EU still in limbo

By Jane Byrne contact

- Last updated on GMT

© istock.com/Zerbor
© istock.com/Zerbor

Related tags: European union

The reauthorization of controversial herbicide, glyphosate, has again failed to get the backing of an EU committee.

Even though a majority of countries favored renewal, no qualified majority was reached in a vote today [6 June] at the Standing Committee on Plants, Animals, Food and Feed (SCOPAFF) the renewal of glyphosate for a limited period of time, a spokesperson for the Commission told us.

The Commission had proposed an interim re-authorization period from July until the release of the opinion of the European Agency for Chemical Products (ECHA) on whether or not the substance is carcinogenic. 

The indecisiveness is proving irksome for the EU executive. The Commission has decried the lack of a resolution, citing its efforts to “accommodate requests and concerns from a number of national governments, as well as from the European Parliament.”

Last week, EU Health and Food Safety Commissioner, Vytenis Andriukaitis, said some countries have been reluctant to take a position.

"I believe it is important to clarify that once an active substance is approved – or renewed at EU level – it is then up to member states to authorize the final products put on their respective markets. 

"The EU approval of an active substance only means the member states can authorize plant protection products on their territory, but they are not obliged to do that. The member states who wish not to use glyphosate based products have the possibility to restrict their use. They do not need to hide behind the Commission's decision," ​he said.  

However, if there is no EU approval by 1 July, then countries will have no more choice in the matter, and they would have to remove glyphosate containing products from their market, he stressed. 

Andriukaitis will discuss the next steps to be taken on glyphosate at this week's College of Commissioners meeting [7 June].

One option could be sending the dossier to an appeals committee.

The other potential move is for the Commission to not intervene, let the authorization expire and then face potential legal action from the glyphosate producers.

Safety evaluations

A joint FAO/WHO meeting on pesticide residues (JMPR)​ in May 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 favor 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.

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