EU policymakers have been accused of ‘disregarding the evidence and science’ as the future of vital crop protection products hangs in the balance.
The European Parliament’s Environment Committee voted overwhelmingly last week to reject European Commission proposals to renew the licence for glyphosate for another 15 years, at least until the European Commission has carried out an independent review into its safety.
Separately, the French National Assembly recently voted to ban the use of all neonicotinoid insecticides from September 1, 2018.
The French Government said the ban was ‘a responsible solution that provides the necessary time to assess alternatives’. French Agriculture Minister, Stéphane Le Foll has called on Brussels to ensure these restrictions applied across the EU.
Neither decision is binding.
The full EU Parliament and the European Commission will have their say on glyphosate over the next two months.
Some experts predicting, if Monsanto’s flagship product is eventually approved, restrictions could be placed on its use, such as banning it for desiccation (application just before harvest).
A final vote on the French neonicotinoid decision is expected in the summer.
But, at a time when the UK’s relationship with the EU is under intense scrutiny, the votes have once again put the spotlight on the EU regulatory process.
The MEPs’ concern about glyphosate stems from a report by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) last year which concluded glyphosate was ’probably carcinogenic to humans’.
But the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has subsequently concluded glyphosate was ‘unlikely to pose a carcinogenic hazard to humans’, while other studies have endorsed its safety.
Farming Minister George Eustice, who is campaigning to leave the EU, cited a recent ’comprehensive scientific study by German authorities’ which concluded that glyphosate was safe to use.
“So a ban is not justified by the science,” he said. “While I am hopeful that there will be a change of heart, this is the latest example of the EU disregarding evidence and science when it comes to pesticide authorisations.”
He said a vote to leave the EU would enable the EU to put in place a ‘credible authorisation procedure for both pesticides and genetic technologies rooted in science rather than the politics of the EU’.
UKIP MEP Stuart Agnew has also suggested the EU Parliament vote strengthens the argument for Brexit.
He said the voted, which he said should have been the responsibility of the agriculture committee, was forced through ’on a wave of emotion’ by a combination of ’socialists, the far left or communists, the liberals and the genuine greens’.
"Even the EU Commission couldn’t find anything wrong with glyphosate," he said. "It has still got to go through the full (EU Parliament) plenary and the Commission but my guess is they will ban glyphosate as a desiccant but allow it pre-emergent."
NFU vice president Guy Smith said glyphosate had a ‘long and well established safety record’, as endorsed recently by EFSA.
He said: “Its loss would have a huge negative impact on the competitive ability of European farmers.
"It enables British farmers to produce wholesome crops as well as tackle problem weeds such as Blackgrass and allows for environmentally benign practices such as min till.
"At a time when the way the EU regulates is under the microscope, EU politicians would do well not to play fast and loose with a key part of the farmers crop production tool box.”
Crop Protection Association chief executive Nick von Westenholz warned farmers were ‘at a grave risk of losing more important products without good, scientific reason’.
He said: "I’m afraid it’s more evidence of the anti-innovation approach we’re increasingly seeing amongst European policy-makers."
He called on policy-makers, whatever the outcome of the EU referendum, to ‘return to science-based decision making’.
A Defra spokesperson said: “We recognise the importance of effective pesticides to farmers and we remain entirely committed to making them available where the regulators are satisfied and scientific evidence shows they do not pose unacceptable risks to human health or the environment.
"The EU Commission are already carrying out a review of the science relating to the impact of neonicotinoids on bees and we are contributing fully.
"The European Food Safety Authority did not find that glyphosate posed a risk to human health and UK experts agree, however we await the decision by the European Commission on the renewal of its approval.”
The Glyphosate Task Force, a consortium of companies jointly seeking renew the European glyphosate registration, acknowledged 'that a degree of concern regarding the use of plant protection products is evident among the public.'
But it said: "However, the taskforce maintains that this resolution contains statements which are not based on scientific evidence and ignores the conclusions of extensive and thorough evaluations which have been conducted by both EFSA and the BfR."
It said the European Commission has recommended that glyphosate is renewed for approval in the EU based on the weight of extensive scientific evidence which has concluded that the substance poses no unacceptable risk to human health or to the environment.