Glyphosate debate in Brussels
The re-authorisation of the widely used but highly controversial plant protection product glyphosate was subject to a heated debate in Brussels. Its permission for use in the EU would expire by the 15th December this year and Member States have repeatedly failed to take their vote on the European Commission proposal to reapprove the active substance glyphosate for another ten years. However, on the 27th November, a consensus has been reached: glyphosate use was extended for another 5 years.
The beginning of the discussion
The Commission called strongly on Member States to position themselves as it is faced with heavy public opposition towards the proposed renewal and controversies about the credibility and capability of EU research assessing glyphosate’s harmful impacts on health and the environment remain.
The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) concluded that glyphosate is safe, while the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classified it as “probably carcinogenic to humans”.
Given these concerns, since the debate on a renewal of glyphosate’s license had started in 2015, no qualified majority of Member States was willing to take a clear position on glyphosate’s license renewal. Hence, the Commission had already delayed its final decision on a re-approval twice in 2016 and provisionally authorized a temporary 18 months extension of the license. As this temporary solution is to expire in December, the Commission was pressured to take a final vote.
The position of the EU Commission…
Earlier this year, reluctant to be held solely responsible for deciding on the future of glyphosate, the Commission stated that it saw no grounds to call into question the scientific assessments and conclusions on glyphosate carried out in the European Union, but that it would nevertheless not want to decide on a licence renewal if Member States do not clearly vote in favour of the current proposal for a license period of five to seven years with a qualified majority. This means that 55% of the EU countries, representing 65% of the European population would have to agree on the proposal.
In a voting on 9th November 2017 at the Standing Committee on Plants, Animals, Food and Feed:
- 14 Member States voted in favour of a further approval of glyphosate for 5 years (representing 36.95 % of the EU population),
- 9 Member States voted against (representing 32.26 % of the EU population) and 5 Member States abstained (representing 30.79 % of the EU population).
Consequently, the Committee delivered a no opinion on this proposal and following the comitology procedure, the Commission now referred the proposal to the appeal committee. This appeal committee is again made up of EU countries’ representatives, chaired by the Commission and conducted a new voting on 27th November…
…and the approval of Glyphosate for the next 5 years!
On the 27th November, a majority in favour of the proposal by the European Commission to renew the approval of glyphosate for a period of 5 years was reached by the Appeal Committee. Some modifications were made to the draft Implementing Regulation during the meeting.
EU Parliament: towards a full ban…
On 24th October, the European Parliament has agreed on a final position, a non-binding resolution, concerning the Commission’s proposal, demanding glyphosate phase-out, resulting in a full ban by the end of 2022. Preparations for this position involved a public hearing with experts organised by Members of the Agriculture and Environment Committees on 11th October. Present at the hearing were representatives from EU and the USA involved in research activities concerning health and environmental risks of glyphosate as well as such experts critically observing those assessments.
The institutions represented were ECHA (European Chemicals Agency), EFSA (European Food Safety Authority), IARC (International Agency for the Research on Cancer), CEO (Corporate Europe Observatory). Attending as individual scientists were Jennifer Sass and Christopher Portier. More information on the individual attendees and their presentations can be found here.
With these experts, the Parliamentary Committees ENVI and AGRI discussed potential bias of research and risk assessment as well as general flaws in the ordinary EU research and legislation process in the field of chemicals. The discussed flaws and health concerns in mind while and at the same time considering the fact, that the upcoming decision on glyphosate’s future availability will have significant economic impact on a great proportion of European farmers the Parliament decided to propose a re-approval of glyphosate, while at the same time stressing the need to transition to possible safer, low-risk alternatives.
In their position, Members of the parliament strongly called on Member States and the Commission to consider these aspects when deciding about glyphosate’s license and when deciding on further actions concerning the development, authorisation and placing on the Union market of pesticide.
…or a “sustainable use of pesticides”?
Meanwhile, on the 13th November, Agriculture MEPs and Commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitis discussed the sustainable use of pesticides and ways to combat antimicrobial resistance. Positions were divided and given the soon-to-be-made decision, on the particular pesticide glyphosate the discussion turned into a debate on next steps.
While some MEPs stressed that the glyphosate must be phased-out, citing concerns over its potential carcinogenicity, others rejected what they called scaremongering and insisted that the EU’s decision must be science-based and for the sake of food security must not tie farmers′ hands.
Commissioner Andriukaitis suggested to look at scientific arguments and apply “common sense approach” rather than to “create fear”. There is no scientific proof that glyphosate is carcinogenic, he said and dismissed what he called “conspiracy theories” about multinationals’ efforts to influence EU decisions.
In the meantime, Civil Society organisations and different interest groups continue to reach out to national and EU decision-makers: The European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI) entitled “Ban glyphosate and protect people and the environment from toxic pesticides” had gathered over one million signatures of European citizens from 22 Member States within less than a year, requesting not only a ban of glyphosate, but explicitly “to propose to Member States a ban on glyphosate, to reform the pesticide approval procedure, and to set EU-wide mandatory reduction targets for pesticide use”.
The participation in the ECI clearly demonstrates a growing public awareness and interest of European Citizens to engage in the much wider debate on the future of plant protection practices: Concerning the cases of private use and application in public areas, but primarily the application in the agricultural industry.
To follow the decision-making process and relevant position papers from the Commission, you can have a look here. To get a grip on the events through the lens of Civil Society (Environmental NGOs) you can find a chronological overview of major milestones here.
For more background on the approval and use of active substances and pesticides in the EU you can visit the European Commission information website on the issue and check more details on glyphosate from EU perspective here.
LINKS OF FURTHER INTEREST
European Parliament Fact Sheet on EU Chemical Legislation
European Commission on pesticides in the European Union – Including a database and overview of the active substance approval procedure:
Different opinions – Voices of farmers:
Farmers arguing in favour of glyphosate: article 1 and article 2
Thoughts on transitioning to alternative means of agriculture