The FT reports that leading EU member states on Monday refused to extend a licence for glyphosate, the world’s most common herbicide. If there is no decision by the end of the month, glyphosate will lose its licence, raising the prospect of legal action by the industry.
The commission had intended to try to relicense glyphosate for 15 years, but the latest proposal was for a licence of only 12 to 18 months, while more research is conducted. This option has been rejected as Germany, France, Italy, Greece, Austria and Portugal and Luxembourg all abstained, meaning the necessary qualified majority could not be reached. Malta voted against.
Bart Staes, a Belgian MEP from the Green Party, warned the commission not to approve glyphosate unilaterally through a so-called “appeals committee”: “Such a move would raise major democratic concerns about the EU’s decision-making process”. More handsomely, the Guardian adds more from Staes:
“We applaud those EU governments who are sticking to their guns and refusing to authorise this controversial toxic herbicide. There are clear concerns about the health risks with glyphosate, both as regards it being a carcinogen and an endocrine disruptor. Moreover, glyphosate’s devastating impact on biodiversity should have already led to its ban”.
Glyphosate is the basis for Monsanto’s topselling weedkiller RoundUp, described in its annual report as “a sustainable source” of cash and profit. Last year more than 80% of Monsanto’s sales were in the Americas and under 13% in Europe.
Last month a report from the WHO and the UN’s Food and Agricultural Organisation concluded that the chemical was “unlikely to pose a carcinogenic risk” through diet, but the WHO’s cancer agency last year had concluded that the product was “probably carcinogenic to humans”.
Prime movers in opposing the use of glyphosate are Sweden, the Netherlands and France – and over 1.5 million EU citizens who petitioned the parliament to ban it.
The German Social democrat environment minister Barbara Hendricks welcomed the decision in Brussels, saying: “Many member states would like the question of cancer risks to be clarified before glyphosate can again be spread on our fields.” But Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservative CDU/CSU bloc, which wants the chemical to remain in use, is frustrated. Peter Liese, a CDU member of the European Parliament, said Berlin must battle for the continued use of glyphosate, albeit under “strict conditions”.
The glyphosate task force, a consortium of companies including Monsanto, complained: “It is clear that certain member states are no longer basing their positions on scientific evidence, which is meant to be the guiding principle of the process”.
US officials said that they are “extremely concerned” about the EU’s action and accuse Brussels of failing to rely on “sound science”. EU officials respond that their “precautionary principle” of regulation in cases of doubt offers greater public protection.