Saturday 1 October 2016

EU Commission intervenes in glyphosate dispute

Published 29/06/2016 | 02:30

The licence for glyphosate is due to expire at the end of this month. Photo: (c) Ilfede | Dreamstime.com
The licence for glyphosate is due to expire at the end of this month. Photo: (c) Ilfede | Dreamstime.com

The European Commission has been forced to step in to solve a dispute over the reauthorisation of weedkiller glyphosate after EU countries failed to reach an agreement last week, reports Sarah Collins.

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Glyphosate has been authorised in the EU since 2002, but the science is split over whether it causes cancer.

A vote in an EU appeals committee on June 24 failed to garner the necessary majority to extend the authorisation for a suggested 12-18 months, leaving the fate of the world's most-used herbicide in doubt.

Although 19 EU countries, including Ireland and the UK, voted in favour, large member states including Germany and Italy abstained, while France joined Malta in voting against, meaning the authorisation fell short of the "qualified" majority needed under EU rules.

Bulgaria also withdrew its previous support of the proposal and abstained in the vote.

"The Commission regrets that no decision could be taken by the Member States, in spite of its efforts over recent weeks to accommodate requests and concerns from a number of national governments, as well as from the European Parliament," a European Commission spokesperson said.

EU commissioners were due to discuss the issue in their weekly meeting yesterday to try to find a way out of the impasse, but were consumed by the fallout from the UK's vote to leave the EU last week.

The Commission has until Thursday to intervene or watch glyphosate's authorisation expire, giving farmers, gardeners and public authorities until December 2018 to stop using products including Monsanto's Roundup.

It is likely to force through a last-minute proposal to extend the authorisation for 12-18 months pending new scientific advice due next year.

It will also make proposals later on to restrict the use of glyphosate, including by banning its use alongside another chemical, PAO-tallowamine, to minimise its use in public parks, public playgrounds and gardens and before harvest time.

The Commission has been loathe to step in and be held liable for the reauthorisation of a chemical that has caused a public outcry across Europe, with millions signing a French-based petition to ban the substance.

The deadlock has led to repeated calls by the European Parliament to change the EU's rules for reauthorising chemicals following recent political spats over endocrine-disrupting substances and genetically modified organisms.

Last week's glyphosate vote follows a previous poll on June 6, when 20 countries in the EU's plants, animals, food and feed committee came out in favour of the European Commission-brokered compromise, and only Malta voted against.

Glyphosate came up for a 15-year renewal last year but a decision was put off after a World Health Organisation (WHO) body classified it as "probably carcinogenic to humans".

The advice conflicts with the European Food and Safety Agency, which found it was "unlikely" to be carcinogenic, a position echoed by a joint United Nations/WHO committee last month.

The European chemicals agency (ECHA) is now reviewing its toxicity but is not expected to rule before mid-2017.

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