Dec. 12, 2017 – Brussels, Belgium — The European Commission, which serves as the executive arm of the European Union, officially adopted a new five-year license for glyphosate today.
Glyphosate is the active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup weed killer and one of the most popular agrichemicals in history. The license for glyphosate stirred up passionate arguments for and against the chemical throughout the EU. Many farmers believe the chemical is a necessary component of modern agriculture while consumer advocates, scientists, lawmakers, and others say the health risks associated with glyphosate far outweigh any benefits.
After months of fierce debate, a majority of Member States voted and the EU allowed glyphosate to be sold and used under a new five-year license. The vote over the glyphosate license itself, however, was not without controversy.
Unexpected Glyphosate Vote Infuriates Member States
Several previous votes on the proposed licensing agreement failed to produce a clear majority voting bloc. The stalemate was caused, in part, because Germany abstained from voting on the matter. Each Member State’s vote is weighted in accordance with the population.
But on Nov. 27, Germany broke with its previous position and voted in favor of the proposal. The vote was a surprise to many, including German officials, who said after the vote that Germany’s Agriculture Minister Christian Schmidt defied instructions to abstain and voted unilaterally in favor of the proposal despite being told to again abstain from voting.
“As for the vote of the agriculture ministry yesterday on glyphosate, this did not comply with the instructions worked out by the federal government,” said German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Schmidt, a conservative, told the media following the vote that he acted alone in voting for the proposal, adding that his decision was an “objectively oriented matter.” His vote so angered members of Germany’s Green Party that they have asked him to step down as Agriculture Minister. Citizen advocacy group Avaaz created a petition asking Chancellor Merkel to remove Schmidt from his post.
“Minister of Agriculture Schmidt approved glyphosate without government consensus, deceiving his ministerial colleagues and the people of Germany and Europe,” the Avaaz petition reads. “Confidence in politics can only be restored if he immediately vacates his post and then initiates a glyphosate exit in Germany.
Last week, environmental groups said the EU violated the rules in its assessment of glyphosate and threatened legal action. The Pesticide Action Network (PAN) and Global 2000 registered legal complaints in Brussels and Vienna, with lawsuits in Italy and France to follow.
EU Commission Will Adopt More Transparency in Chemical Approval Process
When the Commission for the EU allowed glyphosate for five more years, they also took the opportunity to address concerns expressed by the ‘Stop Glyphosate’ European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI), which called for more transparency in the approval of chemicals and pesticides.
Earlier this year, the Stop Glyphosate campaign submitted a petition to “ban glyphosate and protect people and the environment from toxic pesticides.” More than 1.3 million people signed the petition.
In response to the campaign, the European Commission announced measures to make the process for authorizing, restricting or banning the use of pesticides more transparent in the future.
The Commission will enact legislative proposal for spring 2018 to enhance the transparency, quality and independence of scientific assessments of substances, such as public access to raw data. It will also amend legislation to strengthen the governance of the conduct of relevant studies, which could include the involvement of public authorities in the process of deciding which studies need to be conducted for a specific case.
Several EU Countries Still Aim to Ban Roundup and Glyphosate Herbicides
Aside from the recommendation for more transparency, Stop Glyphosate called for an outright ban on the chemical, citing links to various health issues. In 2015, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) issued a comprehensive report on glyphosate, classifying the chemical as a probable human carcinogen.
Other EU countries are also calling for glyphosate to be banned. In the wake of the Nov. 27 vote, French president Emmanuel Macron announced via social media that his country will search for viable alternatives to glyphosate and ban the chemical domestically within the next three years. Maurizio Martino, Italy’s Minister of Agriculture, said his country will also look to ban glyphosate in three years.
Austria, France, Italy and Belgium were among the coalition of Member States to vote against relicensing glyphosate.