Glyphosate is sprayed on to a field© Tim Scrivener

Indications that the EU commission only wants to re-license glyphosate for another 10 years, rather than 15, has drawn sharp criticism from manufacturers and farm leaders, who say the authorities are “giving in to the Facebook science of activists”.

The comments follow widespread reporting this week that EU food safety commissioner, Vytenis Andriukaitis, only wants to recommend a 10-year extension.

This is despite the fact glyphosate has recently been given a clean bill of health by the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA), as well as the European Food Safety Authority (Efsa), which both dismissed claims the weedkiller is carcinogenic.

See also: EU scientists reject glyphosate cancer claims

This would normally pave the way for a 15-year licence renewal, but the commission believes a political compromise will be necessary.

The European Crop Protection Association, representing manufacturers, described the EU Commission’s position as “short-sighted” and one which “undermines science and the EU approval system”.

“How can the commission justify only a proposal for 10-years now, with a clean bill of health from ECHA, when it could justify a 15-year proposal 12 months ago without one?” asked a spokesman.

“They are giving in to the Facebook science of activists.”

Negative impact

EU farmers’ group Copa also expressed its frustration in the light of the clear advice from ECHA and Efsa.

“Creating doubt about EU science-based decision-making will only have an negative impact on the credibility of the EU authorities and jeopardise our high safety standards at the same time as putting our own farmers in a less competitive position vis a vis their competitors in non-EU countries,” said secretary general Pekka Pesonen.

Copa argues that glyphosate is essential to help farmers produce safe, affordable food, while also combining with catch crops to prevent soil erosion and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Political mind games

Even a 10-year extension to the licence for glyphosate could be optimistic, as political opposition grows.

The commission told news service, Euractiv, that the 10-year extension was a “starting point” for debate.

But in a strongly-worded statement, the Socialist and Democrats Group of MEPs – which represent 189 MEPs out of 751 and is the second largest political grouping – unanimously rejected the commission’s plan, citing the “evident lack of transparency in the classification process”.

In particular, it criticises the fact that some of the evidence provided to ECHA and Efsa came from the pesticide industry and had not been peer reviewed. It also says contrasting assessments of the carcinogenicity of glyphosate means the product should not be re-licensed.

In response, the European Crop Protection Association says that some 3,500 peer reviewed studies were considered by the authorities, and notes that regulatory authorities around the world have declared glyphosate to be perfectly safe.

The actual licensing decision rests with member states, not the European parliament, and must be made by the end of this year.

The voice of the European parliament can certainly sway opinion, however, and In the event of a split vote, the final say could revert to the EU Commission.