Industry organisations have expressed their frustration over a further EU delay on the reauthorisation of the glyphosate non-selective herbicide and a vote to reduce cadmium levels in fertilisers.

The Standing Committee on Plants, Animals, Food and Feed (SCPAFF) meeting in Brussels on Wednesday was due to discuss the European Commission’s proposal to renew glyphosate’s market authorisation for a ten year period (instead of the full fifteen years), but no vote to decide the issue was held.

This is the second no vote to date, with any decision now deferred to a subsequent meeting. The Commission has indicated it will return with a proposal for a five to seven year extension -the current 18 month temporary re-authorisation expires at the end of December.

The SCPAFF no vote followed Tuesday’s non-binding vote at the European Parliament to ban domestic use of glyphosate immediately and phase out its professional use by 2022.

EU farm and co-operative body Copa Cogeca says it is “strongly disappointed” at the development. “Glyphosate has been given a positive assessment by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), and the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA),” points out secretary-general Pekka Pesonen. “Without renewal, our affordable food supplies and agricultural conservation will be thrown into jeopardy. We urge EU decision-makers and member states to approve it for 15 years.

“Glyphosate shouldn’t become the victim of politics or be used as a bargaining tools by member states. There is no reason that it should not be re-authorised for the full term. Failing to renew it would break consumer trust in our institutions and decision-makers and allow minority views to take the stage.”

NFU vice president Guy Smith echoes these views: “We’re disappointed that member states failed to reach agreement on the renewal of glyphosate’s licence for ten years today, as the Commission had proposed, although we welcome the fact the UK continues to support the full re-authorisation of glyphosate. All eyes are now on the next meeting of this committee, where they are likely to debate a shorter reauthorisation period.

“The continued politicisation of this decision damages the credibility of the EU’s regulatory bodies and undermines the regulatory process. It also has huge implications for farming in the UK and across Europe,” Mr Smith concludes.

NFU Scotland president Andrew McCornick adds: “Arable and livestock farms throughout Scotland rely on glyphosate to control weeds, manage harvests, and reduce grain drying costs and have done so safely for many, many years. The cost of losing such a vital asset would be detrimental to many who rely so heavily on it. It is proven to be a climate change-friendly herbicide and its use, instead of the high CO2 omitting alternatives, is an environmental positive.”

Cadmium

On Tuesday, the European Parliament adopted a compromise motion on the EU Fertiliser Regulation, which among other changes, reduces the cadmium level of phosphate fertiliser products to 20mg cadmium/kgP2O5. Fertiliser manufacturers had lobbied for a 60mg limit.

Jacob Hansen, director general of the Fertilizers Europe trade association, says the decision “sets an impossible reduction plan for cadmium in phosphorus fertilizers. Now the ball is with the Council of Ministers, which will have to devise a realistic common position on cadmium in order to set the right path for trialogue negotiations.”

He continues: “The European Parliament decided to move away from the Commission proposal, but not as far as fertilizer manufacturers were calling for. By doing so, the Parliament puts the continued production of phosphate fertilizers and the global competitiveness of European farmers at stake, without contributing real benefits for either the environment or public health. We have always accepted that a limit on cadmium should be set at a realistic level to guarantee the safety of our products.”

Head of the AIC Fertiliser Sector Jo Gilbertson adds:  “Whilst this is a major defeat, the issue is not yet exhausted and we will continue to lobby the EU Council.” The 20mg limit will either restrict raw material supplies or necessitate an expensive removal process, which is not yet proven at commercial scale. Either way will add to the cost of this essential plant nutrient.

Mr Hansen says other issues in the EP position on the draft regulation are to be welcomed, including a clearer definition of mineral fertilizers to help guarantee the high quality of products, the introduction of solubility criteria for phosphate fertilizers in Annex I, and higher minimum nutrient levels.  It also enables the continued use of by-products from industrial processes as mineral fertilizers, enabling the sector to play an important role in the ‘circular economy’.