EU Holds Off on Glyphosate Reauthorization Vote

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By Stephen Gardner

March 8 — A regulatory committee of representatives from the European Union's member states March 8 opted not to take a decision on the reauthorization in the bloc of the herbicide glyphosate, possibly deferring a vote on the issue until May.

Glyphosate is one of the world's most widely used active ingredients in herbicides, including Monsanto's Roundup brand. The issue of its reauthorization in the EU has become increasingly contentious since the European Commission, the EU's executive arm, issued in February a draft regulation under which glyphosate would be reauthorized through 2031.

Environmental groups and lawmakers opposed to the reauthorization have accused the commission of ignoring studies carried out by the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer that concluded glyphosate was “probably carcinogenic.”

The European Commission has defended the process of reauthorization of glyphosate, which includes scientific input from the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), which concluded that glyphosate was unlikely to pose a cancer risk.

Co-Formulants Discussed

In a March 8 statement, the commission said the EU Standing Committee on Plants, Animals, Food and Feed discussed “how to move forward” on glyphosate during a March 7–8 meeting.

The committee is next scheduled to discuss pesticides May 18–19, but “if needed, the issue can be raised at a meeting even before,” the commission said. The current EU authorization of glyphosate expires June 30.

The commission added that at the regulatory committee meeting, “the issue of co-formulants was stressed in particular,” and that a ban on the substance tallowamine in pesticides would be considered.

Glyphosate is blended with polyethoxylated tallowamine, a surfactant, in some formulations. In its work on glyphosate, EFSA concluded that tallowamine should be further studied because of concerns about its reprotoxic effects.

Opposing Views

One source who asked not to be named told Bloomberg BNA March 8 that in any vote on the reauthorization of glyphosate, France, Germany and the Netherlands will likely abstain while Italy and Sweden will vote against.

Under EU regulatory committee voting rules, this would mean neither a qualified majority in favor nor against the commission's glyphosate proposal. In such a situation, the commission would be able to adopt the regulation on authorization.

Martin Häusling, a German Green member of the European Parliament, said in a statement March 8 that in light of conflicting scientific advice, the commission “should be respecting its duty to apply the precautionary principle and not approving of this highly controversial substance.

“We hope this postponement will convince more EU governments to join in opposing the approval of this controversial substance,” Häusling said.

Brandon Mitchener, a spokesman for Monsanto, told Bloomberg BNA March 8 that “there has never been such an exhaustive review of an active substance before,” and the EU reauthorization process was “robust and transparent.”

Despite opposition from some countries, Monsanto expected glyphosate to be reauthorized, Mitchener said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Stephen Gardner in Brussels at correspondents@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Greg Henderson at ghenderson@bna.com