Q&A: Glyphosate: EU approval
The European Commission has extended EU approval of glyphosate until the end of 2017, when an additional opinion is expected from the EU’s European Chemicals Agency (ECHA).

The commission regrets that EU states were not prepared to take responsibility for glyphosate re-approval, nor agree to the restricted conditions (the commission will direct efforts to have the restricted conditions adopted as soon as possible).

What is glyphosate?

Glyphosate is an active substance used for production of pesticides, authorised in the EU since 2002. It is the most frequently used herbicide worldwide and in the EU.

Glyphosate-based pesticides are used in agriculture and horticulture, primarily to combat weeds that compete with cultivated crops.

Does the EU authorise the placing on the market of pesticides?

No, that’s the role of the member states, but at EU level, active substances in the pesticides have to undergo intensive evaluation and peer-review by member states and the European Food Safety Authority, and be approved by the EU. 

Once an active substance has been approved or renewed at EU level, safety evaluation of every pesticide formulation is done later by individual member states, before they grant, refuse or restrict pesticides at national level. 

For example, member states can restrict product to certain crops, professional use, or in glass houses only.

What has been the procedure for extension of approval of glyphosate?

The EU has one of the strictest systems in the world for pesticides.

Hundreds of active substances, like glyphosate, have gone through or are going through stringent scientific assessment process.

Glyphosate had been under evaluation since 2012 for a possible renewal of approval.

In October, 2015, glyphosate approval was provisionally extended until June 2016, pending finalisation of EU peer review.

In June 2016, there was no qualified majority for approval from member states at either the standing committee or the appeal committee, and the commission extended approval of the substance, under certain conditions, just before the June 30 end of the provisional extension.

The EU’s assessment of glyphosate has taken three years, involving public sector scientific experts from EU’s agencies (EFSA and ECHA) and national authorities in all 28 member states (27 member states agree with the European Food Safety Authority’s conclusion on carcinogenicity; Sweden was in favour of another classification).

What is the final decision?

The commission adopted extension of the current approval for a limited period, until the ECHA, has concluded its review.

In parallel, the commission has already presented to member states three clear recommendations on the use of glyphosate:


ban a co-formulant called POE-tallowamine from glyphosate based products;


minimise use of the substance in public parks, public playgrounds and gardens;


minimise pre-harvest use of glyphosate.

It is primarily the responsibility of member states to decide upon and enforce such measures.

Why is the ECHA opinion important?

ECHA is the competent EU agency for assessment of classification of chemical substances. 

Discussions in the standing committee on plants, animals, food and feed in May 2016, showed that a number of member states, in their role as risk managers, considered it appropriate to have an opinion of the committee for risk assessment of ECHA on the carcinogenicity of glyphosate, before taking a decision.

What could be done in particular as regards co-formulants?

POE-tallowamine, one of the co-formulants used for glyphosate-based products, has raised concerns regarding its toxicity.

The commission has proposed to member states to ban POE-tallowamine.

An EU experts’ group has been put together by the commission to set up criteria to identify an EU list of banned co-formulants.

Will there be additional scientific work on glyphosate?

Yes. Apart from ECHA’s upcoming opinion, EFSA continues its on-going review of existing maximum residue levels (MRLs) for glyphosate (the highest level of pesticide residue legally tolerated in or on food or feed, when pesticides are applied correctly.

Finally, the commission can review approval at any time when relevant scientific elements are published.


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