Time running out in EU for glyphosate

EU member states will meet again today to decide if glyphosate’s expiring EU license can be renewed.

Re-authorisation in the EU of the world’s most commonly used herbicide, better known as Roundup, must happen before December 15.

The European Commission has proposed a five-year renewal, but major member countries oppose this, with little sign of consensus, despite Germany trying to drum up support for a three-year extension. France and Belgium want the chemical to be phased out. Ireland has supported Commission proposals in relation to the renewal of the approval of glyphosate, to date. Others generally favouring licensing of glyphosate so far have been Bulgaria, Denmark, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Spain, Cyprus, Latvia, Lithuania, Hungary, the Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Finland and the UK.

Countries believed to have opposed a ten-year renewal of the glyphosate licence are Belgium, Greece, Croatia, France, Italy, Luxembourg, Malta, Austria, Slovenia and Sweden, with Germany and Portugal abstaining. However, it will be up to the Commission to decide, if member states cannot agree.

If the licence is not renewed, and the chemical is phased out for use in the EU, the next aim for anti-glyphosate campaigners is likely to be an EU ban on importing food grown using the herbicide.

In this way, the glyphosate decision could be a major setback for the EU’s livestock production, which is heavily dependent on grain imports.

A ban could be implemented through the World Trade Organisation by the EU reducing its maximum residue levels for glyphosate to 0.01 milligrams per kilogram, on health grounds, compared to the 20 milligrams per kilogram limit now allowed for some crop imports.

The situation has led to Canada’s grains industry accusing Italy of jumping on the glyphosate bandwagon in order to limit imports of Canadian durum wheat, widely used in pasta making, which competes with Italian grain.

Italy is believed to be one of four EU member states opposing a glyphosate licence, who previously abstained in votes on the product.

The glyphosate decision has become subject to emotions and politics, despite a positive assessment of the chemical by the European Food Safety Authority and the European Chemicals Agency, said EU farmer and agricultural co-op leader Pekka Pesonen.

He was reacting to the EU Commission proposal to re-authorise the glyphosate herbicide active substance for only five years, instead of 15 years. He said it is unacceptable, and will undermine credibility in the EU institutions, and put at risk safe food supplies. “There should be no question but to re-authorise its use for the full 15 years,” said Mr Pesonen.

“This widely used active substance contributes to feeding a growing population and to ensure agriculture conservation and fertile soils.

“Using glyphosate has many environmental benefits, as farmers don’t need to till the soil which reduces soil erosion, keeps soil fertility and soil organic matters up, and reduces greenhouse gas emissions.”

The European Parliament has called for a full glyphosate ban within five years.

Over 1m people have signed a European citizen’s initiative calling for a glyphosate ban.

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