The European Commission will try again on June 23 to reach agreement on the re-licensing glyphosate, with time now rapidly running out.
Experts on the Commission’s standing committee on plants, animals, food and feed once again failed to reach the necessary agreement on the latest proposal to re-license the chemical on Monday, before its current authorisation expires on July 1.
This was despite a heavily revised proposal which would see glyphosate licensed for just 18 months to give to give the EU’s Agency for Chemical Products time to report on the carcinogenicity of glyphosate before the issue is addressed again at EU level.
This compared with previous proposals of 15 years and, a few weeks ago, nine years.
But while 20 member states, including the UK, supported the proposal, seven abstained, including Germany, which is divided politically on the issue, France, which remains staunchly opposed, and Italy, while only Malta voted against.
This was not enough to secure necessary qualified majority to back the Commission’s proposal.
The proposal will now go to an Appeal Committee, made up of senior representatives from all member states, probably on June 23, or, if not, the following day.
Tom Keen, European policy adviser for the UK farm unions in Brussels, said the Commission might add an additional proposal to the mix, which it has already flagged up, in order to try and persuade some of those abstaining to come off the fence.
This would be likely to include:
Mr Keen said it was impossible to predict the outcome, with much depending on Germany. Its support, or, albeit far less likely, that of France or Italy, could be enough to secure the qualified majority needed, he said.
Mr Keen pointed some member states have switched their position in recent weeks. Portugal went from being in favour to opposed, following internal political changes, while Sweden has gone the other way.
If there was still no decision from the appeal hearing, the Commission would then have a week to decide whether to adopt its proposal without the required backing of member states.
While it has always seen this as a last resort and expressed its reluctance to take this route, the right of the Commission to have the final is part of the regulatory process.
If it decided not to, glyphosate’s current authorisation would expire on July 1 and member states would have to withdraw the authorisations for plant protection products containing glyphosate from the market, a move that would huge implications for EU agriculture.
Given the stakes, it is difficult the Commission allowing this to happen easily, especially in light of comments by EU Health and Food Safety Commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitis, who has repeatedly expressed his frustration at the way politics, rather than science, appears to have been driving this issue.
The Commission has already had proposals to extend glyphosate’s EU marketing authorisation blocked twice in recent months.
But Mr Andriukaitis said the Commission was doing its ‘utmost to reach a suitable solution, based on sound scientific evidence’.
He reiterated his call to member states to ‘take their own responsibilities and not hide behind the Commission’.
Mr Andriukaitis pointed out supporting the re-licensing of glyphosate would not stop member states restricting its use in their own territories.
Opposition to the herbicide’s re-authorisation is driven largely by a report by the International Agency for Research on Cancer last year which concluded glyphosate was ’probably carcinogenic to humans’.
Mr Andriukaitis said the proposals and decisions on glyphosate were based on the guided assessment done by the European Food Safety Authority and, before it, the German Federal institute for Risk Assessment (Bundesinstitut für Risikobewertung).
"They both concluded that Glyphosate is unlikely to be carcinogenic," he said.
The World Health Organisation and the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization recently concluded glyphosate was ‘unlikely to pose a carcinogenic risk to humans from exposure through the diet’.