Farm Ireland

Friday 19 January 2018

Brussels briefing: Clock is ticking on a 'political time-bomb'

Sinn Féin MEP Lynn Boylan
Sinn Féin MEP Lynn Boylan

Sarah Collins

Irish farmers are on their guard ahead of upcoming EU decisions on pesticides and agricultural emissions.

There is still no majority in favour of renewing the licence for controversial weedkiller glyphosate which expires at the end of June, and the issue is turning into a political time bomb.

Glyphosate - more commonly refered to in Ireland as Roundup - is the most widely used herbicide in the world, has been authorised in the EU since 2000 but the science is split over whether it causes cancer.

The World Health Organisation said last year the chemical is "probably carcinogenic to humans" but rowed back on its assessment this month in a joint paper with the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation, saying it was "unlikely" to pose a risk to humans via the food chain.

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), after reviewing selected studies, also concluded that glyphosate is "unlikely" to pose a carcinogenic hazard to humans.

Sinn Fein MEP Lynn Boylan blasted what she called EFSA's "closed-door science" and said Ireland should make its position on glyphosate public.

IFA president Joe Healy said that failure by the EU to renew the approval of glyphosate in the absence of alternative active ingredients to control economically important weeds will destroy Ireland's important tillage sector and have knock on impact on the entire sector. He said it was being used as a "political football".

Ireland is one of 19 countries in favour of reauthorising glyphosate for the next nine years. That list also includes the UK and the Netherlands.

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But France and Italy are against (though the latter is wavering), while seven other countries, including Germany, are unsure. By virtue of their size, France, Italy and Germany together can block the proposal, so the European Commission has so far been reluctant to hold a vote.

Failure to decide by June will mean farmers (and gardeners) will have to stop using Roundup and glyphosate-based herbicides from the end of the year.

Green MEPs seized on the issue and staged a publicity stunt earlier this month under the banner 'MEPee'.

After sending urine samples from 48 MEPs for testing, they said they were "pissed off" after finding they contained average glyphosate levels that were 17 times higher than the European drinking water norm (of 0.1mg per litre).

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