EU Commission Postpones Glyphosate Vote

09.03.2016 -

The EU has again postponed a decision on whether to extend its approval for glyphosate, the controversial active ingredient for a number of herbicides including Monsanto's Roundup.

The chemical has been under scrutiny worldwide as a possible carcinogen, in particular since the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) within the World Health Organization (WHO) a year ago recommended classifying glyphosate as “probable carcinogenic to humans.”

A closed-door meeting on Mar. 7 and 8 in Brussels attended by experts from all 28 member states had been expected to endorse the EU Commission’s proposal to extend authorization of glyphosate for 15 years until 2031. However, the meeting was adjourned without a vote and a decision made to continue the discussion at the latest on May 18-19.

Reports from inside the Commission said a decision was rendered unlikely after France announced it would not vote for approval, and Germany, as usual, said it planned to abstain. The vote will have to go ahead, however, before an existing approval expires at the end of June.

In opposition to the WHO committee, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has issued an opinion that glyphosate is unlikely to cause cancer, as it also did in the case of bisphenol A – setting itself apart from the more critical health watchdogs.

Especially since the IARC statement, numerous consumer and environmental health organizations, as well as some public authorities, have been pushing for a ban on herbicides that contain glyphosate and/or 2,4-D.

Monsanto has demanded a retraction of the WHO group’s classification of glyphosate, and Dow Chemical is embroiled in a dispute with the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) over its new genetically manipulated Enlist Duo corn and soybean franchise that contains both glyphosate and 2,4-D.

The Glyphosate Task Force, which joins Monsanto with other companies producing or using the chemical, pointing to a “rigorous assessment of consumer safety” that showed no threat, has been lobbying for the extension of approval, while environmental organizations have lobbied against it.

“As long as there is conflicting scientific advice, glyphosate should not be approved for use in the EU” Greenpeace EU food policy director Franziska Achterberg said. Germany’s Friends of the Earth affiliate, BUND, has been pressing the country’s federal government to vote against an extension at EU level, saying continuing to use the chemical presents “great risks.”

Noting that there appear to be gaps in safety data for glyphosate, as the EU Commission has given producers until August to provide additional information, BUND chair Hubert Weiger said it would be premature to extend the registration before that, especially for a period as long as 15 years.