The European Commission’s decision to reopen discussions on the reauthorisation of glyphosate for a ten year period have been attacked by the farm lobby as too short and by the environmental movement which wants a total ban. Meanwhile, EU Health and Food Safety commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitis has warned of the danger of politics drowning out the science.

Glyphosate’s 15 year EU registration period ended in June 2016, but was extended for a temporary 18 month period in view of the entrenched positions around the issue. The new ten year proposal is tabled as a starting point for discussions – the final term will be decided by member states. The Crop Protection Association (CPA) had expected a vote at Standing Committee meeting in July but thinks this is now more likely in September.

Although the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA); the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) and the World Health Organisation (WHO) have all concluded that glyphosate is safe if used responsibly, the Socialists & Democratic group in the European Parliament is still set against any reauthorisation, pointing to a 750,000 strong petition of European citizens opposed to the use of glyphosate.

“It is disappointing that the College of Commissioners has supported this proposal and it sets a worrying precedent for those that might look to invest in Europe,” warns CPA chief executive Sarah Mukherjee. “It is baffling to see the Commission justifying a proposal for 10 years now, with a clean bill of health from ECHA, when it could have justified a 15 year proposal 12 months ago without one. Rather than listening to the scientific opinion of expert regulators, the Commission are allowing the system to be hijacked and politicised by NGOs and activists with an ideological opposition to modern agriculture.

“Glyphosate is an essential part of the farmer’s toolkit, helping them to tackle weeds and produce healthy, safe and affordable food. Over 40 years of robust scientific evidence shows no risk to safety, so clearly the standard 15 year period should apply.”

EU farm body Copa Cogeca says that both EFSA and ECHA have published strong scientific evidence supporting full re-authorization for 15 years, as there are no safety concerns. It says any shorter term would detract from the credibility of these bodies and the EU authorities, as well as making EU farmers less competitive in world markets.

“Glyphosate is the most widely used herbicide in the EU, enabling us to produce safe, affordable, quality food,” says Copa Cogeca secretary general Pekka Pesonen. “Its use is also essential together with catch crops to prevent soil erosion and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Since there is no scientific evidence to suggest it should not be re-authorised, we called on the EU to re-authorise its use for the full term of fifteen years in accordance with EU legislation.”  

Mr Andriukaitis told the Euractiv website: “As a doctor, I rely on science. Therefore, I will continue to base my decisions on science and on the rule of law. I will also continue to work on sustainable EU food policy that promotes innovation, technological advancements and strives to respect the environment while providing EU citizens with safe and nutritious food at affordable prices.”