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Broad opposition halts EU glyphosate reauthorization - for how long?

14 June 2016 Feature
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Strong mobilization by a wide coalition of citizen groups including trade unions has succeeded in temporarily blocking renewed EU authorization of glyphosate, the world's most widely-used herbicide and the active ingredient in Monsanto's Roundup. The European Commission and national governments are maneuvering between pressure from the agrochemical lobby, organized in the Glyphosate Task Force, and a popular insurgency which shows no signs of going away.

Despite a report last year from the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer which found that glyphosate is probably carcinogenic to humans (and therefore illegal under EU pesticide law), the European Food Safety Agency (EFSA) in November 2015 gave glyphosate a positive recommendation for reauthorization, and even proposed increasing permissible exposure levels.

Reauthorization would normally routinely follow, but massive opposition elevated glyphosate use into a potent political theme. On April 13 the European Parliament overwhelmingly approved a resolution declaring that the Commission had failed to implement the precautionary principle and act to ensure a high level of protection of human health and the environment. The resolution recommended limited reauthorization only, with important restrictions.  The resolution was ignored, but the Commission has three times failed to obtain the necessary support in the technical committee through which authorization proceeds, where a 'qualified majority' representing 65% of the EU's population is needed. In the most recent vote, Germany, France, Italy, Austria, Portugal and Luxembourg abstained. The process now moves to an Appeal Committee, which will convene on June 24. In the absence of approval there, the Commission can still unilaterally approve reauthorization.

Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker has suggested that individual member states can choose to ban or restrict glyphosate use, knowing that that could leave them vulnerable to potential industry lawsuits. France, Germany and Italy have reportedly urged Juncker to approve reauthorization while they abstain from voting in the Appeal Committee, throwing the responsibility for an unpopular move onto the Commission while maintaining credibility with public opinion at home. And glyphosate is now under scrutiny from by the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA), whose procedures operate on narrower grounds than EFSA. The ECHA review can decide to ban glyphosate from commercial use whatever the outcome of the current dispute, or it can be the basis for renewed authorization.

In a June 13 letter to Juncker and Health and Food Safety Commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitis, the IUF joined with 30 environmental, health, medical and consumer organizations to insist that glyphosate authorization not be extended beyond June 30, when the current authorization expires. The IUF will be actively working to ensure that continued glyphosate use is neither approved by the Appeal Committee nor authorized by an ECHA review. And we will continue to work for the reduction and elimination of toxic chemicals in food production which place agricultural workers in the front line of exposure to hazards which threaten the environment and human health generally through wider contamination.