Calls to ban the popular weedkiller glyphosate first emerged in 2015, when the International Agency for Research on Cancer – linked to the World Health Organisation – said the active ingredient was “probably carcinogenic”.
But it was in 2016 that the argument really heated up and the EU Commission was pushed to the brink of cancelling its licence.
In February the commission drew up a proposal to extend the licence for another 15 years, based on the clean bill of health the product was given by the European Food Safety Authority.
This quickly ran into opposition, however, from environmental organisations, MEPs and some member states. Friends of the Earth called for a permanent ban on the “reckless and unnecessary use of this toxic weedkiller”.
More actives under threat
Glyphosate is far from the only active ingredient to face challenges in Brussels.
Over 100 different products are up for re-approval in the next two years and the NFU warned at the Cereals event in June that “our diminishing armoury of actives is under threat” due to the unpredictable regulatory regime.
Diquat and bentazone are just two of the pesticides facing a challenge.
Farming organisations and manufacturers countered that glyphosate posed no risk to human health and banning it could actually be counterproductive in terms of undermining competitiveness and boosting greenhouse gas emissions.
This case was strengthened when, in May, the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation and the World Health Organisation both agreed that “glyphosate is unlikely to pose a carcinogenic risk to humans from exposure through diet”.
Lack of support
Despite this, the EU commission revised its proposal, seeking to extend the licence by nine years, rather than 15, but this still failed to win support from a number of member states, led by France, Germany and Italy.
A number of attempts to get this proposal approved ended in failure and eventually led the EU Commission to roll over the licence under its own powers, just two days before the licence expired on 30 June, though this time just for 18 months.
This timetable at least allows time for the European Agency for Chemical Products to reassess the product, with a definitive risk assessment scheduled for next year.