The European Parliament has voted to re-license glyphosate but for a shorter period than initially proposed and with various new restrictions attached.
MEPs passed a resolution by 374 votes to 225, with 102 abstentions, recommending that the European Commission renews glyphosate’s marketing authorisation for another seven years, rather than the 15 years originally proposed by the Commission.
The non-binding resolution calls for the licence to restrict application for professional uses only and says glyphosate should not be approved for use in or close to public parks, public playgrounds and public gardens.
MEPs also condemned the ’unacceptable’ use of the world’s most widely used herbicide to kill crops prior to harvest in order to accelerate ripening and facilitate harvesting, in a farming practice they described as ’green burndown’.
"This practice leads inter alia to increased human exposure," the Parliament said, following the vote in Strasbourg on Wednesday.
The resolution expresses ’concerns about the carcinogenicity and endocrine disruptive properties of the herbicide glyphosate’, stemming from a report by International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) which concluded glyphosate was ’probably carcinogenic to humans’.
The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) subsequently published its own findings, concluding glyphosate was ‘unlikely to pose a carcinogenic hazard to humans’.
MEPs are sceptical about the findings of the advisory body, calling on the Commission and EFSA to ’immediately disclose all the scientific evidence that has been a basis for the positive classification of glyphosate and the proposed re-authorisation, given the overriding public interest in disclosure’.
The resolution calls on the Commission to launch an independent review of the overall toxicity and classification of glyphosate, based on data relating to carcinogenicity and possible endocrine-disruptive properties.
It also urges it to table a new draft in order to better address the sustainable use of herbicides containing glyphosate.
The full EU Parliament plenary vote followed a vote by the Parliament’s environment committee in March recommending the herbicide should not be re-licensed, at least until more research has been done in response to concerns it could be carcinogenic.
In May, national experts on the Standing Committee on Plants, Animals, Food and Feed (Phytopharmaceuticals Section) will vote to adopt or reject the Commission proposal.
If there no qualified majority, it will be up to the European Commission to decide on the re-licensing of glyphosate.
The current EU licence for glyphosate runs out at the end of June 2016.
The vote was welcomed by both industry bodies lobbying to keep the vital farm chemical and environmentalists lobbying to get it banned.
NFU President Meurig Raymond said: “The result of this vote is very welcome news.
"It’s fundamental that the agricultural sector is able to use glyphosate responsibly in order to produce healthy products across the sector entering the food chain, reduce our greenhouse gas emissions and continue to farm sustainably.
He said the NFU had met with MEPs ahead of the vote in Strasbourg this week ’to make absolutely sure that they are aware of the importance of glyphosate for farming and adding balance to any skewed views on the issue’.
He added: "This work was strengthened by the many letters from farmers to their local MEPs, and I thank those who took the time to do so.
“We were in grave danger of the debate ignoring the impacts this would have had on farms across the UK and Europe and being hijacked by wider political motives.
"It’s absolutely vital that policy is led by the most up to date scientific evidence out there. I’m glad we’ve seen evidence of this today.”
NFU Scotland president Allan Bowie commented: “While today’s vote is non-binding, we hope it sends a clear signal to the Commission that glyphosate must have a place in the plant protection toolbox of growers for many years to come.
“We want to see science-led decision-making on plant protection products and most importantly a move to risk-based rather than hazard-based assessments.
"The current approach is forcing us to rely on fewer and fewer products which risks yields, quality and food safety."
Greenpeace welcomed the call for restrictions on glyphosate’s use and the recommended shorter licence period but said the vote did not go far enough.
Its head EU food policy director Franziska Achterberg said: “MEPs are right to call for tough restrictions of glyphosate use, but these are not sufficient to protect people and the environment.
"The science shows that glyphosate is a threat for public health and must be banned outright. A ban in cities and gardens would not prevent large-scale contamination of food, water, soil and air.”
The Soil Association claimed a 'victory in the campaign to stop glyphosate being sprayed on wheat before it makes its way to British bread' and described the vote as a 'huge setback for a pesticide claimed to be the safest ever'.
Peter Melchett, policy director of the Soil Association said: “Just a few months ago everyone assumed that glyphosate would sail through reauthorisation in the EU without any problems.
"The decisions by the parliament today are a dramatic blow, not just to the future use of glyphosate but to the pesticide industry generally.”
Georgina Downs of the UK Pesticides Campaign described the vote as 'ludicrous'.
She said: “The European Parliament vote has seemingly recognised the risk to the health of transient bystanders and non-professional users of pesticides but left at risk from exposure and adverse impacts the group with one of the highest levels of exposure which is rural residents living in the locality of sprayed crop fields."