EU hits deadlock on the future of glyphosate a month before deadline

Copyright: European Union , 2017; Source: EC - Audiovisual Service; Photo: Frank Molter

Copyright: European Union , 2017; Source: EC – Audiovisual Service; Photo: Frank Molter


Last week, European Union member states failed to agree on whether to re-licence controversial herbicide glyphosate in the bloc, and so to close a long-standing dispute over the world’s biggest-selling weedkiller. In a vote held last Thursday, the European Commission fell short again of the majority needed to renew the licence for another five years, after EU states already failed in October to vote on a proposal for a 10-year licence extension. Now it seems that EU members have hit a deadlock on the future of the weedkiller in the Region, with less than five weeks before the final deadline and a continuously growing debate.

Background

The “glyphosate deadlock” in the European Union has dragged on since June 2016, when its previous 15-year licence expired, and an 18-month extension was granted. The chemical has been used by farmers for more than 40 years, after agrochemical giant Monsanto synthesised the agent first in the 1970s. Its history changed in 2015, when the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) concluded it “probably causes cancer”, and photo reports on how the chemical would allegedly be causing severe health issues in Latin America started to circulate.

From that moment, public opinion worldwide started to be very critic against the use of the weedkiller, and pressure against local governments in Europe started to rise ahead of a fast-approaching deadline. The European Commission reached out to various bodies to establish whether or not IARC was right and there was any evidence that glyphosate was carcinogenic. The European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) fed back to the European Union on June 15 2017, and concluded that “there is no evidence to link glyphosate to cancer in humans, based on the available information”.

ECHA also said that “Glyphosate should not be classified as a substance that causes genetic damage (mutagen) or disrupts reproduction”. The EU also reported that the same conclusion was also reached by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and the Joint Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (JMPR). The EU then confirmed that the deadline to agree on the re-licencing of glyphosate was December 15 2017.

Last Thursday’s vote

So last week, after not having been able last month to pass a proposal to renew glyphosate’s license for a further 10 years, EU Member States failed to reach a majority decision on the Commission’s proposal for a five-year extension. On Thursday morning, only half of the 28 member states backed the proposal, with 9 votes against and 5 abstentions, according to a commission spokesperson. To pass, 55 per cent of the countries representing 65 per cent of the EU population need to vote yes. “Given that a qualified majority could not be reached … the result of the vote is ‘no opinion’”, said the Commission, the EU’s executive and regulatory arm.

Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Ireland, Spain, the Netherlands, Slovenia and United Kingdom were among the countries that backed the proposal, while, on the other hand, nine EU members states voted against the proposal. Those were Belgium, Greece, France, Croatia, Italy, Cyprus, Luxembourg, Malta, and Austria. Germany, Bulgaria, Poland, Portugal and Romania were the countries that abstained.

Reactions

“Overwhelming public pressure is paying off, with a clear lack of political support to extend the licence for glyphosate”, said Adrian Bebb, food and farming campaigner at Friends of the Earth Europe. “When the final decision comes around, there’s only one responsible option – take it off the market immediately, and support farmers to help them get off the chemical treadmill”, he also added.

Greenpeace EU food policy director Franziska Achterberg shares the same view, and said that the EU needs to ban glyphosate now, and “not in three, five or ten more years”. Gaetano Pascale, president of SlowFood in Italy, said on Thursday SlowFood is “firmly asking” the EU to not re-licence glyphosate in Europe. “If we gave up banning glyphosate there could be serious consequences on our health”, said Mr. Pascale. “The only possible way is agroecology”, he added.

Criticism over the deadlock

Graeme Taylor, spokesperson for the Pesticide Industry, on the contrary expressed his criticism. “If member states followed science, glyphosate would have been approved for 15 years already last year”, he said. “The institutions need to build trust in science and the safe food we have in Europe, not break it down”.

Also Copa-Cogeca, European farmers and agri-cooperatives association criticized Thursday’s happening, and practically echoed Mr. Taylor. “The EU has turned its back on its scientists”, said an official Copa-Cogeca press release last week, where the association also criticize the decision to vote for a re-licencing of only 5 instead of 15 years. “Glyphosate has been given a positive assessment by both the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), and the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA). Our farmers and agri-cooperatives cannot understand why there should be any hesitation but to re-authorise its use for the full 15 years”, said Copa and Cogeca Secretary-General Pekka Pesonen. “Today’s vote creates uncertainty for farmers and industry, making it difficult for them to plan ahead”, he continued.

Next steps

On November 20, the “Stop Glyphosate” European Citizens’ Initiative will be allowed to present their proposals during a public hearing in the European parliament, after they we able to receive as many as 1.1 million statements from EU citizens from 22 member states. The Commission will then decide whether to “act by proposing legislation, act in some other way to achieve the goals of the Initiative, or not act at all”, as explained in an official EU statement.

A few days later, on November 28, the EU will once again formally try to get over the deadlock when an appeal committee food safety will consider the five-year renewal. If the appeal committee fails find a permanent solution, the Commission will have to take a decision anyway before the 15 December deadline. Total EU sales of glyphosate-based products are around 1 billion euros per year. Monsanto has a share of about 40 percent of the global market*.

*Reuters

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