Farmers and industry leaders have welcomed a last-minute decision to re-approve glyphosate as a herbicide – just days before the deadline expired.
Growers and other users will be allowed to use glyphosate for a further 18 months after EU officials confirmed the extension to the licence for the agrochemical at a meeting in Luxembourg on Tuesday (28 June).
Glyphosate has been the subject of increased controversy over recent years – particularly regarding whether or not it causes cancer.
Farmers had faced the prospect of glyphosate being withdrawn had its licence not been reapproved by a 30 June deadline.
The European Food Safety Authority (Efsa) had concluded glyphosate was “unlikely” to cause cancer in humans.
But repeated votes by EU member states were unable to reach the majority necessary for the product to be reapproved.
As the 30 June deadline loomed, the European Commission decided to accept the Efsa finding and reapprove glyphosate – although for a shorter period than the 15 years originally proposed.
Relicensing for 18 months allows time for further assessments of product safety.
Crop Protection Association chief executive Nick von Westenholz said it was disappointing that EU member states had ignored the science and advice of expert regulators, effectively forcing the commission into a position.
“The indecision of member states and the need for an extension demonstrates how politicised this process has become.
“Nevertheless, it will be a relief to farmers that they will be able to continue to use this crucial tool, at least in the short-term.”
Given the scientific evidence, the standard 15-year renewal should have been granted, said Mr von Westenholz.
Member states should take the sensible decision to relicense what was a safe, efficient and effective product for the full 15 years once the 18 month extension had expired, he added.
“Failure to relicence glyphosate would be contrary to the science, provide no benefit to human health, wildlife or the environment and at the same time remove one of the key tools our farmers need to produce a safe, healthy, reliable and affordable supply of food.”
The Country Land and Business Association (CLA) said the extension would allow for a definitive impartial view to be published before the license expires again.
Removing the licence based on poor science and a precautionary principle would be counterproductive, it warned.
CLA deputy president Tim Breitmeyer said banning the chemical altogether would have a detrimental effect for agriculture and the environment.
It could also mean the use of less effective but equally harmful chemicals at higher dosage rates, he said.
“It would add significantly to the cost of food production with a significant reduction in environmentally friendly conservation tillage and the consequential loss of organic soil carbon and thus further greenhouse gas emissions.”
But environmental group Friends of the Earth (FoE), which has campaigned for glyphosate to be banned, insisted there was mounting evidence that the chemical was harmful to human health.
FoE farming campaigner Clare Oxborrow said glyphosate should be withdrawn.
“The government must now see that glyphosate’s days are numbered and produce a phase-out plan for this and other damaging chemicals.
“Farmers urgently need independent advice and support on other ways of tackling persistent weeds that do not harm our water, soils and wild species.”