Tuesday

11th May 2021

EU fails to reach weed-killer deal, again

  • Glyphosate is marketed by US company Monsanto under the brandname Roundup (Photo: CIAT)

European experts failed to extend the licence for glyphosate, the world’s most widely-used weed-killing substance, during a meeting on Monday (6 June).

The EU standing committee on plants, animals, food and feed, known as Paff, which gathers experts from member states, failed to find a qualified majority supporting the European Commission's proposal to extend the licence even for a limited period of 18 months.

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A German spokesman said last week that Berlin would abstain from voting, as the governing coalition is split on the issue.

The French minister of health, Marisol Touraine, said in May that Paris would ban the use of glyphosate, regardless of the EU vote. But according to an EU source, France also merely abstained on Monday.

A majority of smaller EU countries wanted to extend the licence.

Glyphosate is marketed by US company Monsanto under the brandname Roundup. Its current licence expires on 30 June.

Paff has already met twice, in March and May, on the issue, both times postponing the vote after some member states raised concerns that glyphosate may cause cancer.

The scientific evidence on the matter is contradictory.

The World Health Organisation (WHO’s) cancer agency, the IARC, classified glyphosate as "probably carcinogenic to humans" in March 2015.

The EU agency for food safety, Efsa, and the Joint Meeting on Pesticide Residues (JMPR), an ad hoc expert committee administered jointly by the WHO and the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation, later said there is no scientific evidence of a cancer link.

The studies used different sources as the basis of their conclusions. JMPR was also accused of conflict of interest, as its chair and vice-chair Alan Boobis and Antonio Moretto, also hold positions at the Monsanto-financed International Life Sciences Institute in New York.

The Commission had suggested an 18 month extension, which would allow for the European Agency for Chemical Products (Echa) to publish its results on the matter.

Under EU law, Echa, rather than Efsa, has the last word on classification of chemicals.

A spokeswoman said the Commission had tried to accommodate concerns from a number of national governments, as well as from the European Parliament, which earlier voted to extend the licence for seven years instead of the customary 15.

Faced with opposition by large EU countries, Vytenis Andriukaitis, the EU health commissioner, said last week that member states could always restrict the use of glyphosate at national level even if they agree to extending the licence at EU level.

“They do not need to hide behind a Commission decision,” he said.

If member states fail to agree, it will be up to the Commission to assume responsibility for a glyphosate licence renewal.

The college of Commissioners will discuss how to proceed on Tuesday.

The EU executive can decide to refer the matter to an appeals committee, which gathers representatives of the 28 EU member states. If they also failed to reach an agreement, the Commission will have the right to adopt its own proposal unilaterally.

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Green MEPs and health pressure groups said the European Chemicals Agency could be suffering from conflicts of interest, after it said there wasn't enough evidence to prove that the world's most widely used weedkiller causes cancer.

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