The European Commission is desperately trying to find a compromise with member states to secure the re-licensing of glyphosate as time begins to run ahead of the June 30 cut-off point.
There is now a very real question mark of the future availability of the herbicide in Europe, following the failure of the EU’s standing committee on plants, animals, food and feed, made up of experts from across the member states, to reach agreement on the issue last Thursday.
Glyphosate’s EU licence runs out on June 30. If no decision is made by then, member states will have to withdraw all authorisations for glyphosate-based products with a sixth month grace period.
A number of member states remain fiercely opposed to re-authorisation on the back of concerns about glyphosate’s safety, largely on the back of a report by the International Agency for Research on Cancer which concluded glyphosate was ’probably carcinogenic to humans’.
These are led by France with Italy, Sweden, Luxembourg and Austria also understood to be opposed to re-authorisation.
Crucially Germany, where the coalition Government is divided on the issue, did not take a position either way, all of which left the Commission well short of the qualified majority required to get its latest proposal through.
The proposal put before the committee sought re-authorisation for a period of nine years, already a compromise on the originally proposed 15 years.
It is understood the Commission is in the process of further tweaking its proposal, likely to include a further reduction in the license period in a bid to gain support, to put before the committee again within the next few weeks.
If this still failed to secure the necessary majority, the Commission would be in uncharted territory.
It would then have the option of pushing the decision through itself, although it has already made it clear it would be very reluctant to do this without the necessary support of member states.
However, as a last resort, according to Brussels sources, the Commission decide push through a 12-month extension to glyphosate’s licence give more time to reach a full agreement.
The initial Commission proposal was blocked back in March and the ongoing delay was condemned by the UK farming unions, who claimed it was being driven by politics, rather than science.
NFU vice president Guy Smith pointed out re-authorisation had been recommended by the ‘appropriate body’, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), which concluded glyphosate was ‘unlikely to pose a carcinogenic hazard to humans’.
Mr Smith said farmers were ‘exasperated’ with the delay and accused some member states of ‘prevaricating and wasting time’.
He said: "Glyphosate is a pesticide which allows farmers to combat weeds while supporting cultivation methods that can preserve good soil structure."
The Glyphosate Task Force (GTF), which represents companies marketing glyphosate, said the situation exposed ‘an acute politicisation of the regulatory procedure’ and was ‘discriminatory, disproportionate and wholly unjustified’.
It pointed to the comprehensive risk assessment conducted by Germany on behalf of the 28 EU Member States and peer reviewed by the EFSA, which it said ’clearly concluded that glyphosate poses no unacceptable risks’.
Philip Miller, glyphosate-based Roundup-manufacturer Monsanto’s vice president of global regulatory and governmental affairs, said the delay was ’not scientifically warranted and represents an unprecedented deviation from the EU’s legislative framework’.
He said: "This delay undermines the credibility of the European regulatory process and threatens to put European farmers and the European agriculture and chemical industries at a competitive disadvantage."
Greenpeace EU food policy director Franziska Achterberg said the no-vote was ’no surprise, since the Commission has continued to ignore the concerns of independent scientists, MEPs and European citizens’.
She said: "It’s time for the Commission to change course.”