25th October 2017
Farmers face continuing uncertainty after the European Commission today ignored scientific evidence and caved into political pressure over the use of the weed killer glyphosate.
The Commission's Standing Committee on Plants, Animals, Food and Feed backtracked from its original proposal to extend glyphosate's licence for a further decade, and even failed to agree proposals for seven and five year reauthorisations. A final decision has now been postponed until November, just a month before the weed killer's current licence expires.
The move follows pressure from countries including France and Italy and a recommendation yesterday by the European Parliament that glyphosate should be phased out in five years and banned immediately from domestic use. Glyphosate is sold under the brand name Roundup® in the UK.
Conservative delegation leader Ashley Fox MEP accused the Commission of allowing politics to undermine the EU's policy of science-based decision making.
He said: "It is unacceptable that the EU spends hundreds of millions of Euros on expert research and scientific advisory bodies just to ignore any findings that are politically inconvenient.
"How can the EU protect agriculture, the environment and businesses when it takes more notice of lobbyists than scientists and acts for short term political gain?
"This continuing fiasco undermines the EU's credibility and our farmers deserve better. They cannot plan for the future without long term assurances about the availability of substances they rely on, such as glyphosate. There are no readymade biological alternatives and none are expected to be commercially viable in the near future."
Glyphosate is the world's most widely used weed killer and is subject to strict regulation. A report by ADAS, the UK's largest agricultural consultancy, estimates that a ban would reduce UK production of winter wheat and winter barley by 12% and oilseed rape by 10%, costing the industry €633m a year. Its use eliminates the need for ploughing machines, reducing soil erosion.
The RSPB cites glyphosate as key to controlling bracken and rushes, while the chemical is widely used to control weeds on runways and railway lines and by gardeners.
In 2015 the International Agency for Research on Cancer aroused controversy when it described glyphosate as a probable carcinogen. However, since then the weed killer has been pronounced safe by organisations including the European Food Safety Authority, the European Chemicals Agency and the UN-World Health Organisation Meeting on Pesticide Residues. This analysis is supported by experts from 27 Member States and national authorities in non-EU countries including Canada, Japan, Australia and New Zealand.