Tuesday

15th Oct 2019

Doubts over EU chemical agency after weedkiller study

  • Last year saw important public resistance to glyphosate. (Photo: Moritz Richter/Campact)

Green MEPs and health and environment NGOs said the European Chemicals Agency (Echa) could be suffering from lack of transparency.

The criticism came after the Helsinki-based agency said earlier that day that there wasn't sufficient scientific evidence to classify glyphosate as a carcinogen.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

Echa's assessment, which was published on Wednesday (15 March) had been long-awaited.

Many people believe glyphosate, the world’s most widely-used weed-killing substance, causes cancer.

A substantial public campaign last year urged EU governments and the European Commission not to renew the marketing authorisation for glyphosate, after it expired last June.

EU governments failed time and time again to agree on the matter in the so-called comitology procedure, where their scientific experts are represented. The decision eventually landed with the commission, which suggested to temporarily extend the marketing permit by 18 months while waiting for Echa's opinion.

The European Parliament's Green group said Echa's opinion "doesn't answer all the questions on glyphosate".

Troubling transparency

A group of Green MEPs have asked for industry studies on glyphosate, in order to make their own scientific assessment. The MEPs have to date only received a partial reply, with heavily redacted studies.

Greens/EFA transparency spokesperson Benedek Javor said: “Today’s decision demonstrates again why we need greater transparency on the studies used to judge glyphosate’s safety.

"This controversy will continue, and citizens will continue to have understandable doubts regarding the safety of glyphosate, until the studies used are made public," he added.

The Health and Environment Alliance (Heal) said on Wednesday that Echa's opinion contradicts that of the gold standard of cancer evaluation - the World Health Organisation’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) - which classified glyphosate as a "probable carcinogen" in 2015.

Heal said the contradiction "feeds public suspicion about the reliability of EU scientific agencies’ opinions" and that there was "growing unease exists about the lack of transparency in the classification process of the European agencies".

Greenpeace, Heal and many other groups sent a letter last week to the commission, saying that Echa was using “unpublished scientific evidence provided by industry in formulating its opinions”, in addition to studies published in peer-reviewed journals.

The letter also expressed concerns about the conflicts of interest of some of the members of the Echa expert committee, and asked the health commissioner, Vytenis Andriukaitis, to "enforce and improve Echa's policies to safeguard its independence from industry and transparency of its work".

Andriukaitis himself suggested that some kind of reform might be needed, according to the meeting minutes from a European Commission college meeting in February.

According to the minutes, the health commissioner felt that "in certain publicly controversial cases within his portfolio, member states were tempted to evade their responsibilities … by leaving the commission to take unpopular decisions alone".

Lack of confidence

The Lithuanian lawmaker, who is a heart surgeon by profession, added that "the main problem was the public's lack of confidence in science and the feeling that Europe was not sufficiently protecting them from the effects of certain chemical substances."

The commission last month unveiled a proposal for comitology reforms, in a bid to have member states share the flak for controversial decisions.

But Andriukaitis felt that that there was also a need for “a reform of the EU agencies responsible for providing the scientific basis for these decisions and of their procedures, to make them more transparent”.

The commission will re-start discussions with member states as regards the approval of glyphosate in a few months, after it receives Echa's opinion, which first has to go through an editorial check.

A commission spokesman told EUobserver he expected a decision to be taken within six months of receipt of Echa's opinion, or by the end of 2017 at the latest.

Echa said it had full access to published, peer-reviewed studies on glyphosate, as well as industry reports. It also used any scientifically relevant information received during a public consultation in summer 2016.

The European Crop Protection Association (Ecpa), the umbrella organisation for pest control companies, welcomed the assessment.

Ecpa spokesman Graeme Taylor said: "Science prevailed."

"We expect the European Commission to move swiftly with the registration process for the substance in the EU and grant a 15-year approval – the same approval that was originally suggested by the EC before the substance became the subject of a political and emotional debate rather than a scientific one," he added.

EU declines to renew glyphosate licence

Member states did not agree on conditions to renew the permit for the chemical used in pesticides, amid contradictory evidence on a possible cancer link.

EU fails to reach weed-killer deal, again

Painful process to agree on use of glyphosate, a weed-killing chemical linked to a cancer scare, could end up with EU Commission taking unilateral action.

Brussels wants EU states to share flak for GMO approvals

European Commission proposes changes to the little-known but often used comitology procedure, which results in deadlocks whenever controversial issues like genetically modified organisms are on the table.

News in Brief

  1. OSCE: Polish elections spoiled by 'homophobic rhetoric'
  2. Barcelona airport clashes after Catalan leaders jailed
  3. US: Erdogan responsible for possible Isis 'resurgence'
  4. Irish foreign minister: Brexit deal 'possible this week'
  5. UK refuses to join EU arms ban on Turkey
  6. Denmark plans to strip foreign fighters of citizenship
  7. Spain issues European arrest warrant for Puigdemont
  8. Possible delay to launch of new EU commission

Greens commit to air quality 'super commissioner'

Following an investigation into the Dieselgate scandal, the European Parliament recommended a single commissioner should be responsible for both air quality and setting industrial standards. But only the Greens want to commit to carry out that advice.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersBrussels welcomes Nordic culture
  2. UNESDAUNESDA appoints Nicholas Hodac as Director General
  3. UNESDASoft drinks industry co-signs Circular Plastics Alliance Declaration
  4. FEANIEngineers Europe Advisory Group: Building the engineers of the future
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNew programme studies infectious diseases and antibiotic resistance
  6. UNESDAUNESDA reduces added sugars 11.9% between 2015-2017
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsEU-Uzbekistan Human Rights Dialogue: EU to raise key fundamental rights issues
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNo evidence that social media are harmful to young people
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersCanada to host the joint Nordic cultural initiative 2021
  10. Vote for the EU Sutainable Energy AwardsCast your vote for your favourite EUSEW Award finalist. You choose the winner of 2019 Citizen’s Award.
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersEducation gets refugees into work
  12. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  2. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  3. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  4. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  8. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  9. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  11. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan
  12. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us