Glyphosate could be banned by the end of 2017 according to Merja Kyllonen, one of the MEPs responsible for steering its re-authorisation through the European Parliament.
Her shock revelation came as another new study showed glyphosate to be non-carcinogenic and several respected bodies across the world declared it to be safe, including the US Environmental Protection Agency and the UN Food and Agriculture/World Health Organisation Joint Committee on Pesticide Residues.
Ms Kyllonen said the European Food Safety Agency’s (EFSA) conclusion that glyphosate was unlikely to pose a carcinogenic hazard to humans ‘was not convincing enough’ and she agreed with the International Agency for Research on Cancer’s (IARC) assessment glyphosate was ‘probably carcinogenic to humans’.
“As long as there is insufficient evidence demonstrating glyphosate is definitely non-carcinogenic – if that ever turns out to be the case – the precautionary principle must be applied, meaning glyphosate must be banned until we have solid proof it does not pose a risk to our health or the environment," she added. She was writing in European policy magazine, The Parliament.
European Commission proposals to revise regulations on plant protection products were also blasted by the MEP.
She branded steps to move away from hazard-based legislation ‘extremely dangerous’, saying ‘sensible precaution has been replaced with warning people only if damage is 100 per cent proven’.
Jean-Philippe Azoulay, director general of the European Crop Protection Association, criticised the EU’s handling of the issue, saying ‘politics is undermining science’.
“There is a real danger politicians are sleep-walking into a food production crisis, with significant consequences for the environment, trade, production and the economy, impacting on impacting on every one of us, from the farmer to the consumer,” he added.
But the warnings seemed to fall on deaf ears, as EU Agriculture Commissioner Phil Hogan pressed ahead with a separate ban on the use of pesticides on certain crops in ecological focus areas (EFA).
The ban, which will start in 2018 as part of greening simplification plans, would cover catch crops, nitrogen-fixing crops and cover crops. It is being introduced in the face of strong opposition from 18 national Governments and EU farmers group COPA.
Richard Means, consultant with Strutt and Parker, said: “If this change is implemented then it will be very disappointing news. Pulses have been the preferred EFA option for many farmers as they are straightforward to grow and help with the three-crop rule.
“If farmers are unable to spray any pulses grown as an EFA then they will become an unviable option. There is likely to be a significant decrease in the area as a result.”
Farming Minister George Eustice has said he wants the UK Government to take a risk-based approach to pesticides, despite rejecting an application from the NFU to allow farmers to use banned neonicotinoid seed treatments on oilseed rape earlier this year. It is not clear how this would work in practice if British farmers are exporting to the EU after Brexit.
Emma Hamer, senior plant health adviser at the NFU, said it may be possible for separate stores to be set up for trading with Europe and selling on the domestic market.