|February 25, 2016|
European commission plans to relicense controversial weedkiller
|The European commission plans to give a new 15-year lease to a controversial weedkiller that was deemed "probably carcinogenic to humans" by the World Health Organisation's International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC).|
A draft implementing law seen by the Guardian says the commission has decided it is appropriate to renew the licence for glyphosate after a lengthy review, which sparked a scientific storm.
Glyphosate is a key ingredient in bestselling herbicides such as Monsanto's Roundup brand and is so widely used that traces of its residues are routinely found in British breads.
The EU's food watchdog, the European Food Safety Authority (Efsa) ruled in November that the substance was unlikely to be carcinogenic, in a move welcomed by the agricultural industry.
But that advice triggered a backlash, with 96 prominent experts, including almost the whole IARC team, taking the unusual step of calling for the Efsa decision to be disregarded.
The Efsa ruling had relied on six industry-funded and partly unpublished studies and was "not credible because it is not supported by the evidence", the scientists wrote in a letter (pdf) to the EU's health commissioner, Vytenis Andriukaitis.
Earlier this week, another 14 scientists signed a consensus statement in the Environmental Health journal, saying regulatory estimates of tolerable exposure levels for glyphosate were based on outdated science.
The Labour party's shadow environment secretary, Kerry McCarthy, said the public had understandable concerns about the possible impact of substances such as glyphosate on their health.
She told the Guardian: "Public policy should always be evidence based and guided by the best available science. There must be transparency and accountability throughout the process, with the evidence behind the policy making published and made available, so that the public can have full confidence in -- or the information they need to challenge -- this decision."
The commission's draft renewal says there was an "extraordinarily high" number of comments from the public and member states during the review.
The paper does propose some restrictions on the use of glyphosate. National authorities should enforce risk-mitigation measures such as protective clothing for crop sprayers, and ensure the glyphosate used in herbicides they may authorise is the same variety as was tested by Efsa.
The renewal calls for further studies on the endocrine disrupting potential of glyphosate to be completed before August.
However, environmentalists said the proposal flew in the face of a censure of the commission by the EU ombudsman, Emily O'Reilly, earlier this week for accepting proof of a pesticide's safety after its use had already been authorised.
Franziska Achterberg, Greenpeace EU's food policy director, said: "Glyphosate was once described by Monsanto as 'safe as table salt'. Now science is telling us that it's a serious threat for our health and the environment. Ignoring the evidence for another 15 years will cost us dearly. Europe needs an exit strategy from chemical pesticides."
EU national representatives will vote on whether to relicense glyphosate at a meeting in Brussels on 7 March.
A spokesman for the European Crop Protection Association said: "If the European commission deems a renewal appropriate, we would hope that EU member states would then support such a proposal."
Public fears about glyphosate were evident again this week as about 3,000 boxes of "organic" women's panty liners were removed from store shelves in France and Canada after they were found to contain traces of glyphosate.