European Union member states have failed to agree on a proposal to extend a licence for glyphosate by up to 18 months, increasing the uncertainty of the future of the world’s most widely used herbicide.
A meeting of the EU’s Plants, Animals, Food and Feed committee (Paff) in Brussels on Monday (6 June) found there was no qualified majority for the European Commission proposal to temporarily extend the approval of glyphosate weedkiller, used in Monsanto’s Roundup.
Twenty member states, including the UK, voted in support of the proposal. But Germany, Italy, France, Greece, Austria, Portugal and Luxembourg all abstained. Malta voted against the proposal.
In order for the commission’s proposal to pass, a qualified majority of 55% of member states – at least 16 countries – and representing 65% of the total EU population voting in favour was necessary.
Because France, Italy and Germany represent such a large proportion of the EU population, the 65% threshold was not reached.
The absence of a qualified majority from the Paff committee means the decision will go to an appeal, whereby the commission will ask member states that abstained to reconsider their vote.
If there is still no qualified majority, the commission could either order a full removal of the licensing of glyphosate, which is thought to be unlikely, or issue a temporary relicensing of the weedkiller.
A third option would be to allow the registration of the product, which is due to expire on 1 July, to run down.
If the commission were to decide to do nothing and let the licensing of glyphosate expire, it could face a legal challenge from the NFU and other farming organisations, NFU chief arable adviser Guy Gagen told Farmers Weekly.
“If it did choose to do nothing, we would have to consider taking the commission to court,” said Mr Gagen.
“Otherwise, we would be in a process where the licensing of glyphosate would start to wind down over a period of months.
“We will do everything in our power to make sure our members have access to glyphosate in future. But it’s looking difficult with this kind of behaviour going on today from member states.”
The EU could also invoke emergency-use measures to keep glyphosate on the market for five years, or the emergency use of a particular plant protection product for 120 days, both of which Mr Gagen described as “far from ideal”.
The European Commission had proposed to extend the licensing for a period of 12-18 months after member states previously could not agree on plans to relicense glyphosate for 15 or nine years.
The commission had suggested a limited extension to allow time for further scientific research amid unproven claims that glyphosate poses cancer risks to humans.