EU Extends Glyphosate Permit for 18 Months

30.06.2016 -

In a unilateral move on Jun. 29 the European Commission (EC) temporarily extended EU registration of glyphosate for 18 months, until the end of 2017. The EU’s governing body exercised its authority to make the decision after its Standing Committee on Plants, Animals, Food and Feed again failed to produce a qualified majority for type of action.

Apart from letting the registration lapse altogether at the end of June, a temporary extension, as proposed by the EC itself earlier, was the only other option open, especially as the 28-member expert panel appears to have backed away from initial plans to keep the controversial chemical on the market for 15 more years. As a compromise, the European Parliament’s compromise had recommended a seven-year renewal.

Had the registration been allowed to lapse, manufacturers would have had to phase out glyphosate-based products sold in the EU within six months, which observers said could have opened the door for lawsuits.

When making proposals for another vote, the Commission said it would take into account the “extremely thorough and stringent scientific assessment of the active substance by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and national agencies”. It noted also that the 18-month extension would give it time to assess a report commissioned from the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA), the body that administrates REACh, time to examine evidence on whether glyphosate causes cancer.

The Commission also proposed restrictions on the conditions for using glyphosate in the EU. These could include a ban of a co-formulant (POE-tallowamine) from glyphosate-based products, obligations to reinforce scrutiny of pre-harvest uses of glyphosate as well as minimizing the use in public parks and playgrounds.

Recent discussions with the member states about the restrictions have been inconclusive, the EC noted, while remarking that it would push for speedy decisions.

As expected, the EU action did not muffle the background debate about whether the active ingredient in herbicides such as Monsanto’s Roundup is a hazard to human health or the environment.

In response to the decision in Brussels, Philip W. Miller, Monsanto’s vice president of global regulatory and governmental affairs, said the US agriculture giant would engage with EU member states and other stakeholders “to understand their concerns, answer their questions and share more information about glyphosate’s long history of safe use.”

The UK office of the environmental advocacy group Friends of the Earth (FoE) said, “glyphosate has been given a stay of execution in Europe, but it remains the world’s most over-used herbicide. Farmers have been told that this chemical is safe – yet there is mounting evidence of the harmful impacts on our health and environment.”

German Foe affiliate, BUND, called the glyphosate extension an affront to all who support the European Union. “If this is the way the EU makes policy, its little wonder that the UK voted to leave, said the organization’s chairman, Hubert Weiger, adding that “more and more EU citizens support farming without pesticides.”

While commenting that “it is understandable that some people have voted to leave the EU because they feel it’s an undemocratic institution,” UK pressure group Global Justice Now, while saying adding that, “just a few months ago it looked very likely that there would be a 15-year relicensing of glyphosate with no restrictions, and many companies like Monsanto assumed that this would go ahead unchallenged.”

Many UK farmers had been seen as leaning toward a British exit from the EU (Brexit) in anticipation of a glyphosate ban urged by “green groups on the continent.” Asked about to post-Brexit issues in the aftermath of the Jun. 23 “Leave” vote, Meurig Raymond, president of the National Farmers Union (NFU), commented that in future decisions on issues such as re-licensing glyphosate “could be made on a scientific basis, rather than by emotion.”

In the Standing Committee’s Jun. 6 session, the UK was one of 20 countries backing the Commission’s compromise proposal. No details were revealed about the split of the latest vote. Reports say more than 2 million hectares of land were treated with glyphosate in England and Wales in 2014. Without the continued use of glyphosate, the NFU estimated that winter wheat and barley production would likely decline by about 12% oilseed rape by about 10%.