Glyphosate is likely to be reauthorised by the European Commission next week, despite continuing opposition from key member states, according to NFU senior plant health adviser Emma Hamer.
However, if the herbicide is granted a last-minute 18-month extension, it is likely to come with ’worrying’ restrictions attached, including on pre-harvest use, she warned.
With glyphosate’s current authorisation expiring on July 1, the latest proposal to reauthorise glyphosate is due to go to a European Commission Appeal Committee, comprising senior officials from the 28 member states, on Friday, June 24.
The hearing was initially scheduled for today (June 23) but was put back a day due to the EU Referendum.
The issue is going to appeal after the repeated failure of various attempts to reach agreement on authorisation by the Commission’s standing committee on plants, animals, food and feed.
The most recent vote in early June saw 20 member states, including the UK, support the proposal, and seven abstaining, including France, which remains staunchly opposed, Italy and Germany, the support of which has always been pivotal. Only Malta voted against.
Ms Hamer predicted little would change in the appeal hearing, which will struggle to get sufficient support for a qualified majority without Germany’s backing.
She said: “Every indication is it probably will not get reauthorised on Friday.
“The problem lies with the German Health Minister. Germany has indicated it categorically cannot authorise something which may be a potential carcinogen."
“This is despite the fact the European Food Safety Authority report and the World Trade Organisation report has come out to say it is not a carcinogen. This just shows how science is being politicised.”
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’.
However, under the EU regulatory system, the Commission can intervene where no agreement has been reached.
Ms Hamer told the NFU council on Tuesday (June 21) the indications were the 28 Commissioners would meet next week and ‘buy some time’ by authorising the chemical for 18 months.
In the meantime, the EU’s Agency for Chemical Products will report on the carcinogenicity of glyphosate, hopefully ruling it is not carcinogenic and paving the way for a full reauthorisation, she said.
However, to appease the green lobby, the Commission has signalled its intention to introduce new restrictions on glyphosate as part of a re-authorisation.
These include restrictions on pre-harvest use, which Ms Hamer described as a ‘massive worry for farmers’, as well limiting use to professionals and banning use in public places.
Ms Hamer said what should have been a straightforward re-authorisation has become tied up with a wider drive to ban GM.
“This seems to be an example of how plant protection legislation is not working,” she said.
"If you can’t get glyphosate through it looks bleak for other active ingredients, including diquat, which is up for re-registration in 12 months. It does not look so rosy - EFSA have said it should not be re-authorised."
Defra Secretary Liz Truss has received about 400,000 emails in response to the NFU’s neonicotinoid application, NFU senior plant health adviser Emma Hamer said.
Having had an initial application rejected, the union submitted a second application for emergency use of the seed treatment across 33 per cent of the English oilseed rape area to protect against cabbage stem flea beetle.
It covers 15 counties where there is known resistance to foliar pyrethroid sprays or where there were ‘real problems trying to establish OSR’ over the past two years.
The NFU is expecting to hear back soon from Ministers following the end of the EU referendum ‘purdah’ period.
“It is a political decision and the NGOs have huge lobbying power. Liz Truss has received about 400,000 emails about this,” Ms Hamer said.