Brussels briefing: Glyphosate license in legal limbo

The licence for glyphosate is due to expire at the end of this month. Photo: (c) Ilfede |
The licence for glyphosate is due to expire at the end of this month. Photo: (c) Ilfede |
European Agriculture and Rural Development Commissioner Phil Hogan

Sarah Collins

The EU's health chief was fuming last week after governments refused to decide whether contentious weedkiller glyphosate should be allowed in Europe beyond June.

The move throws the bloc into legal limbo as the licence for glyphosate, the world's most-used herbicide and the active ingredient in Monsanto's Roundup, expires at the end of the month.

Officials in the European Commission are baffled at the stance taken by Germany, France and Italy, who sat out a June 6 vote on whether to extend the current licence temporarily, pending new scientific advice due next year.

EU majority rules require at least one of the three big countries to come on side, but they are so far refusing to show their hand, prompting a firm rebuke from commissioner for health and food safety Vytenis Andriukaitis, who accused them of "hiding behind" Brussels on the issue.

Commission officials are fed up with what they see as political posturing over what should be a technical issue.

They will face off with national ambassadors when the issue comes up for an appeal hearing on June 24.

If there is still no majority in favour of reauthorising the chemical, the Commission can force the temporary extension through, as it has done in the past for certain genetically modified organisms.

But the EU executive wants to avoid being left holding responsibility while the science is still split over whether there is a link between glyphosate and cancer.

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"The Commission is doing its utmost to reach a suitable solution, based on sound scientific evidence," a spokesperson said following the vote last week.

It is difficult to see how a compromise will be found, given that no country bar the Netherlands has shifted its position recently in favour of a reauthorisation.

France and Germany in particular are hamstrung by a popular backlash against the chemical at home ahead of general elections next year.

MEPs push for ban on  genetically modified maize

The European Parliament has asked the Commission to withdraw authorisation for genetically modified maize, which they say is resistant to weedkiller glyphosate.

In a report voted through by a large majority last week, MEPs also opposed the authorisation of two genetically modified carnations, which they say are resistant to another herbicide, sulfonylurea.

They say the Commission's approval process for genetically modified organisms is "flawed", with the EU executive making decisions above governments' heads, without having the necessary majority of EU countries on side.

It bodes ill for the glyphosate debate, where there is still no "qualified" majority on board which amounts to 55pc of countries that represent 65pc of the EU population.

Glyphosate has already polarised MEPs, with Greens and socialists calling for an outright ban on the weedkiller as long as the science is split on whether it causes cancer.

Retail giants in the spotlight over agri contract negotiations

European Agriculture and Rural Development Commissioner Phil Hogan

MEPs have called on the Commission to legislate against retail  giants who bargain down farm prices, pass on costs and change contract terms on a whim.

They want rules in place to restrict supermarket chains from holding farmers and small companies to ransom in contract negotiations, especially in the light of crises in the dairy and pigment sectors.

So far 20 EU countries have introduced legislation against such unfair trading practices and more are planning to do so, but there are no common EU rules. EU agriculture chief Phil Hogan, pictured, said it was fair play for supermarkets to “bargain hard” but agreed to ask a Commission expert group to look into the issue and report back by year’s end.

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