EU Divided Over Proposal to Reauthorize Glyphosate for the Next Decade

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Monsanto’s Roundup weedkiller spray without glyphosate used in a French garden (Image credit: Reuters)

In a surprising move, the European Commission has suggested renewing the authorization of glyphosate within the European Union (EU) for a decade, despite granting it only a five-year extension in 2017. This controversial herbicide’s renewal proposal lacks adequate safeguards, as criticized by France and Germany, among others.

The Commission’s decision, made on September 20, is based on two evaluations conducted over seven years, both yielding similar results. The most recent assessment relies on conclusions from the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), published in early July, which did not identify any “critical areas of concern” for human health. This refers to toxicity profiles, including carcinogenic, mutagenic, reprotoxic, or endocrine-disrupting properties, that might hinder the reauthorization of the world’s most widely used herbicide.

However, the scientific debate remains unresolved. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has considered glyphosate a “probable carcinogen” since 2015. In June 2021, a collective review by the French National Institute of Health and Medical Research (Inserm) highlighted converging evidence of genotoxicity, carcinogenicity, nephrotoxicity, and epigenetic effects.

The Commission’s proposal is scheduled for examination by the EU’s member states on October 13, following a review by the 27-member group on September 20. The current authorization for glyphosate in the EU initially extended for five years, was set to expire on December 15, 2022, but was prolonged for one year pending scientific evaluation. The Commission’s proposition would extend glyphosate’s use until December 15, 2033, doubling the previous authorization period but falling short of the initially suggested fifteen-year period.

This proposal comes with stipulations for risk mitigation around sprayed areas, including the establishment of “buffer zones” of 5 to 10 meters and the use of equipment to significantly reduce “spray drift.” It also sets limits for certain “impurities” in glyphosate. The Commission emphasizes that EU member states should pay particular attention to the herbicide’s impact on the environment and undertake assessments accordingly.

States are required to assess the impact on groundwater, surface water, and water used for drinking purposes, considering potential infiltration. Importantly, the use of glyphosate for crop desiccation (the application of glyphosate to dry crops before harvesting) is now prohibited.

The classification of glyphosate as a carcinogen has been a contentious issue. While the IARC classified it as a “probable carcinogen” for humans in 2015, the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) deemed it non-carcinogenic. This ongoing debate has significant implications for its reauthorization.

The Commission’s proposal will be put to a vote, requiring a “qualified majority” of 15 EU member states representing at least 65% of the bloc’s population either to support or block it. The decision should be based on scientific conclusions from relevant authorities, such as the EFSA.

However, there are concerns about the safety assessments, with citizens in six EU countries reportedly opposing the extension of glyphosate’s approval. This divisive issue will be closely watched as it unfolds in the coming weeks, impacting agriculture and environmental policies across the EU.

Written by Imane Moumen

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