Farm Ireland

Sunday 22 April 2018

EU ignites glyphosate row over licence proposal

Monsanto's Roundup weedkiller that contains glyphosate for sale in France. REUTERS/Charles Platiau
Monsanto's Roundup weedkiller that contains glyphosate for sale in France. REUTERS/Charles Platiau

Sarah Collins

The EU has reopened a bitter row over the world's most notorious weedkiller, glyphosate, by proposing to extend its licence for 10 years.

Ireland supports the move by the bloc's health commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitis, who was unapologetic despite a long-running row over whether the chemical causes cancer.

"Our position is based on a very thorough assessment," Mr Andriukaitis told the Farming Independent in an interview following the decision last week.

"This chemical is under scrutiny, under regulation, under thorough risk management, under thorough risk assessment, under thorough rules."

The proposal has to be approved by a majority of EU countries representing a majority of the population, meaning it requires France, Germany or Italy on board.

But it is unclear whether they would vote in favour of a 10-year extension to glyphosate's licence, which runs out at the end of this year. No date has yet been set for a vote.

Farmers would have liked to see glyphosate approved for another 15 years, the standard for most chemicals, with EU farming lobby Copa-Cogeca saying it "regrets" the Commission's decision to reauthorise the weedkiller for only 10 years,

Glyphosate, first developed and marketed by Monsanto in the 1970s under the name RoundUp, is the world's most-used weedkiller.

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In 2015, a World Health Organisation body classified it as "probably carcinogenic to humans", but the European Food Safety Authority says it is "unlikely" to be cancer-causing.

Last year, the EU said it would temporarily extend glyphosate's licence pending a review by the bloc's chemicals agency, which said in March that "the available scientific evidence does not meet the criteria to classify glyphosate as a carcinogen".

Socialist and green MEPs have called for a parliamentary inquiry into the chemical, following allegations in the US that Monsanto had ghost-written some of the glyphosate studies. Monsanto denies this.

Lithuanian commissioner Mr Andriukaitis said he has studies from Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Canada and the UN showing glyphosate is safe.

"It would be strange that all those agencies would be in the hands of industry. Sorry friends, it's a very weak argument," he said.

Deadlock over gm cotton and maize imports

EU countries are deadlocked over whether to allow imports of genetically modified (GM) maize and cotton that are resistant to certain herbicides.

They failed to find a majority last week in favour of authorising the two GM products, which the European Parliament has said could play havoc with hormone function and reproduction.

It is now up to the European Commission to make a decision on whether to force through authorisation, which it is reluctant to do given the ongoing row over glyphosate, a weedkiller that some fear may cause cancer.

“Frankly speaking, as a medical doctor, I am not fundamentalist. I will follow science,” EU health chief Vytenis Andriukaitis said.

MEPs voted last week to overhaul the EU’s GM authorisation procedure, which they say is not transparent. The vote was non-binding.

Individual countries can ban the cultivation of GM crops on their territory, but they are not allowed to ban imports of GM food and feed.

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