The long-term future of domestic weedkillers containing glyphosate is back on a knife-edge following last Wednesday’s decision by the EU Commission to defer a definitive vote on a proposed 10-year re-approval of the chemical, just weeks before the current licence runs out.
Glyphosate, the active ingredient in best-selling Roundup and a number of other systemic weedkillers that kill weeds back to the roots, is an important herbicide for gardeners and farmers, but it was deemed “probably carcinogenic” by the World Health Organisations’s cancer agency (IARC), leading to a review by the EU Commission. Monsanto, the manufacturers of glyphosate, have consistently challenged IARC’s findings and the European Food Standards Agency has concluded that glyphosate is unlikely to cause cancer in humans.
After two years of debate, the European Parliament last week called for glyphosate to be phased out by 2022. Twenty-four hours later, the EU Commission’s Standing Committee on Plants and Animals Food and Feed (SCoPAFF) – Europe’s policy makers and administrators – failed to reach a concensus on a proposal for a 10-year extension to glyphosate’s licence, which runs out on 15 December. An ‘indicative vote’ (like an informal show of hands) suggested that a shorter period of relicensing (closer to the five years called for by MEPs, perhaps) might get support – so the matter will now be considered yet again by the 28 member states before another vote by SCoPAFF some time in November. Meanwhile, the deadline looms…
The UK was one of 16 governments who said they would have voted in favour of the 10-year extension – but 10 were against it. Germany and Portugal abstained, with the result that member support for the plan reached only 47%, short of a qualified majority.
According to the UK’s Agriculture Industries Federation, the Commission will now consider lowering the approval period and sound out member states before putting a new proposal to the vote.
Last week's votes clearly bring the prospect a of a ban closer, but observers believe it is far from a fait accompli.
Darren Brown, head of the UK and Ireland division of SBM Life Science, who sell glyphosate products, told GTN Xtra: "We will roll with any changes because we have both natural and synthetic products, but we support the industry view that what we need is science-based legislation representing a balanced view after considering all the evidence. We were glad to see the UK's support for the re-approval this week, in line with most other member states - which gives us cause for optimism."
Monsanto and Westland Horticulture had not responded to GTN's request for comment before this edition was finalised.
This article in New Scientist makes interesting reading: Ban on weedkiller glyphosate won’t save anyone from cancer