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29th Feb 2024

Glyphosate protesters hold meeting with Commission

  • EU food safety commissioner Andriukaitis (third from the left) and commission vice-president Timmernas (third from the right) at their meeting with citizens worried about glyphosate (Photo: European Commission)

The European Commission on Monday (23 October) received the organisers of a citizens' initiative that calls for a ban on glyphosate - but will continue to go ahead as scheduled on Wednesday with a possible vote on renewing the weedkiller's licence for a ten-year period.

"In line with the citizens' initiative regulation, the commission has invited the organisers to Brussels to present their ideas in more depth," commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas told press on Monday.

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  • Supporters of the citizens' initiative calling for a ban on glyphosate, following their meeting (Photo: Peter Teffer)

"A public hearing on this subject will also be arranged in the European Parliament to allow all stakeholders to present their views in the coming weeks," he said, adding that the commission will formulate a response to the 1.3m-strong petition before the three-month deadline expires.

However, that public hearing will come too late to influence a Commission meeting with member states representatives on Wednesday (25 October).

Commission spokeswoman Anca Paduraru said that this meeting will go ahead as planned, and that Wednesday will see a "possible vote" on whether to adopt the commission's proposal to renew the glyphosate licence for ten years – instead of the customary fifteen years.

"The idea is to check with member states what they have to say regarding the proposal that is on the table based on the assessment and the evaluation that we have," she said.

Glyphosate has been deemed safe according to two EU agencies, the European Chemicals Agency and the European Food Safety Authority, but the organisers behind the EU petition are sceptical, because many of the underlying studies are company-owned and therefore confidential.

Moreover, some of the scientific evidence used in the review was written or influenced by glyphosate-seller Monsanto, although the EU commission has said that those studies were not decisive.

The pesticide is in the group 2A category of the World Health Organisation's International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), which means it is "probably carcinogenic to humans."

Other substances that have this classification are for example anabolic steroids and red meat.

"These are two completely different things," said Greenpeace EU director Jorgo Riss on Monday, after the meeting with EU commission staff.

"You can choose how much meat you eat, you cannot choose how much you are exposed to glyphosate. Glyphosate is in the water, is in the food, that's why we need regulatory action on that," he added.

Riss and a handful of the 1.3 million supporters of the citizens' initiative were received in the commission's Berlaymont building and spoke for two hours.

Commission in 'listening' mode

Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker's right-hand man, vice-president Frans Timmermans, was present "during the first hour", while food safety commissioner Vytenis Andrikuaitis was also there.

"The commission was primarily listening," said Riss.

"We gave very concrete suggestions on how to take action within a short time, in the framework of the existing legislation and the existing powers that the commission has," he noted.

The Greenpeace activist said the petitioners were "not happy" that the commission "too often" referred to the EU's member state governments as being responsible.

Riss said they wanted the commission not to "pass the buck", but added it was "too early for us to judge" if the meeting was positive.

Glyphosate-filled week

According to spokesman Schinas, commissioner Andriukaitis will "update his colleagues on the state of play around glyphosate" on Tuesday.

The same day, the European Parliament will vote on a non-binding text, which calls for a complete phase-out of glyphosate by the end of 2020.

The license for glyphosate is expiring at the end of the year.

The citizens' initiative is about more than just the glyphosate renewal. Its supporters also want to change procedures to prevent conflicts of interests.

"At the moment it is the chemical industry that chooses which laboratory does the study for them," said Riss.

"The industry should continue to pay, but it should be the public authority which makes the contract with the laboratories, so that the laboratories are not tempted in their competition that they have with other laboratories to write reports that please the industry so that they get a contract the next time around."

The 'Stop Glyphosate' initiative is the fourth successful initiative to secure the required minimum of one million signatures and be considered by the European Commission for possible action. The other three all were registered in 2012.

An initiative on the EU-US trade treaty TTIP was signed over 3 million times, and is still ongoing.

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Hailed as the EU's first real step towards direct democracy, a right contained in the new Lisbon Treaty allowing EU citizens to ask the commission to initiate a law is shaping up to be a political and legal minefield.

Health MEPs want to phase out glyphosate by 2020

A committee resolution said the proposal to renew the glyphosate permit for a decade "fails to ensure a high level of protection of both human and animal health and the environment".

Doubts over EU chemical agency after weedkiller study

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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The EU's favourable opinion of the weed-killer chemical glyphosate was partially based on scientific evidence heavily influenced by weed-killer manufacturer Monsanto.

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Member state representatives met on Wednesday to discuss a renewal of the licence of the controversial weedkiller. 'At the conclusion of the meeting, no vote was taken', the commission said.

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