EU delays glyphosate decision amid cancer concerns

By Niamh Michail contact

- Last updated on GMT

 A commission source said member states focused in particular on the safety issue of co-formulants and tallowamines during the committee discussion. © iStock / Mihajlo Maricic
A commission source said member states focused in particular on the safety issue of co-formulants and tallowamines during the committee discussion. © iStock / Mihajlo Maricic

Related tags: Member states, European union, Glyphosate

The European Commission delayed making a decision on glyphosate yesterday as four member states, including the EU Presidency-holding Netherlands, said they would vote against renewing Monsanto's licence, leaving campaigners claiming a temporary victory. 

The Commission had been expected to rubberstamp glyphosate’s approval for renewed use in Europe for the next 15 years at a meeting of the EU’s Standing Plant Animal Food and Feed (PAFF) Committee. But member states France, Italy, Sweden and the Netherlands made it known during the past few days they would vote against.

But a Commission spokesperson denied a vote had been delayed. “In order for something to be postponed it has to be first confirmed or planned… A vote was never confirmed - at least from our side. What we always said is that ‘there will be a discussion at the Committee’, which was indeed the case.”

The spokesperson said: “The Commission services and the member states discussed how to move forward on this matter. The issue of co-formulants was stressed in particular, as something where attention should be focused - starting with a ban of the tallowamine.”

The issue of co-formulants – and especially those in the tallowamine family​ –  has been flagged as a critically weak point in the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) safety approval of the herbicide because it looked at glyphosate alone, concluding the chemical is unlikely to cause cancer.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) International Agency of Research on Cancer (IARC), however, assessed it in combination with other chemicals commonly found in glyphosate-based formulations, and deemed the chemical to be probably carcinogenic in humans.

The Commission has said there is time for further discussion as the deadline for any decision is the end of June, when Monsanto’s licence to sell glyphosate in Europe expires. Although a date has yet to be confirmed it is thought it will now take place at the next standing committee meeting on phytopharmaceuticals, scheduled for the 18-19 May, or perhaps at an earlier meeting on plant health on the 19–20 April.

Victory? 

Monsanto, which has dismissed  IARC's evaluation as "not supported by scientific data"​  has launched a Twitter campaign in which it lists seven reasons to understand glyphosate, including getting the green light for safety from regulatory bodies and the fact that farmers have a choice whether to use it or not.

Environmental Toxicologist at Pesticide Action Network (PAN)-Europe, Angeliki Lyssimachou, told FoodNavigator it considered the delayed vote “a temporary victory”​.

“Member states are now waking up and realising that the assessment performed by European Authorities might not be that solid after all. We are confident that more will follow, as the European assessment has major flaws. Human and environmental health comes first and so does public opinion; Europe must ban the use of this dangerous pesticide on our food production, our gardens and public areas,” ​she said.

But consumer food watchdog association, FoodWatch, was more tentative in declaring a victory, saying the Commission "had simply decided...to decide later." 

“The Commission will probably use this delay to try to get a qualified majority voting. So we will keep on highlighting the scandal that is the evaluation process of the glyphosate and keep on mobilising the consumers,” ​campaigner Ingrid Kragl said.

“The delay to the vote doesn’t change anything to the fact that glyphosate is still classified as probably carcinogenic to humans by IARC. As too many scientific doubts remain, the precautionary principle must apply.”

Director of Public Affairs at the European Crop Protection Agency (EPCA) Graeme Taylor said: "We understand the importance of the Commission taking time to discuss the proposal to renew the approval for glyphosate with Member States. During the approval process Member States and EFSA have considered over 90,000 pages and 3,200 peer reviewed studies, and we are confident the proposal will be put forward for a formal vote at a future standing committee meeting."

A FoodWatch petition​, which calls on the European Union to ban glyphosate in Europe, has notched up more than 119,000 signatures at the time of publication of this article while a petition on Avaaz​ has over 12,000. 

Glyphosate is also sold under the commercial brand Roundup, which is worth around €4.56bn ($5bn) a year to Monsanto.

In France alone, the agriculture sector used between 5157 tonnes and 7421 tonnes from 2008 to 2014, according to the French food safety authority (ANSES).

Related topics: Regulation & Safety

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