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EU defers vote on glyphosate weedkiller over cancer concerns

The European Union has postponed a decision on extending approval for glyphosate after a dispute with the United Nations over whether the controversial weedkiller ingredient causes cancer.

After meetings behind closed doors on Monday and Tuesday, a panel of experts from all 28 EU member states stopped short of endorsing a European Commission proposal to extend authorization of glyphosate for 15 years until 2031.

EU diplomats said the panel had failed to reach a qualified majority in favor of extending approval, adding that the discussion would continue at another session of the group on May 18-19.

According to the news agency Reuters, France, Italy and Sweden had voiced their concern over glyphosate, while Germany planned to abstain from any vote.

The EU executive Commission needs a decision over the coming weeks to prevent a legal vacuum when an existing approval for the world's most widely used weedkiller ingredient expires in the EU at the end of June.

Cancer controversy

In November 2015, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), which advises EU policymakers, issued an opinion that glyphosate was unlikely to cause cancer.

That was at odds with a view from the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), which said in March last year that glyphosate is "probably carcinogenic to humans."

Ninety-six academics from around the world signed an Vytenis Andriukaitis, dated Nov. 27, urging EU authorities to ignore the European watchdog's opinion.

Vested interests

On Tuesday, Greenpeace Germany called the deferral of the decision a "move in the right direction" and urged EU policymakers to refrain from adopting "policies in the interest of agro businesses."

A statement on the website of Monsanto, which calls its glyphosate-containing herbicide Roundup the flagship of its agro-chemicals business, said it strongly disagreed with the IARC's classification. It has filed a legal challenge in the United States.

The Glyphosate Task Force, which brings together Monsanto and other companies, said the ingredient had been rigorously tested for its safety to consumers, and that it expected approval in the coming weeks.

uhe/pad (AFP, Reuters)

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