A panel of experts from EU member states failed to agree on whether to extend approval for the use of controversial weedkiller glyphosate, as uncertainty persists regarding its potentially carcinogenic properties.
Ahead of the Monday vote taken by an expert panel of European member state representatives, the European Commission had suggested extending the license of a year to 18 months for the herbicide, which works by inhibiting the growth of unwanted plants.
But the proposal did not manage to get the relevant backing it would have needed from the member states - without which glyphosate-containing products will have to be pulled from the market by June 30, when the license is due to expire.
The glyphosate lobby was quick to respond with criticism to the lack of decision. The end of glyphosate use would "entail serious consequences“ for Europe’s farmers, said the Glyphosate Task Force (GTF), a group of companies pushing for an extension to the weedkiller’s registration.
"The indecision among Member States and the need of an extension are highly regrettable and a sad sign of how politically charged the glyphosate renewal process has become," said GTF Chairman Richard Garnett.
The discussion surrounding glyphosate is also thought to be a proxy for the larger debate confronting Europe on the future of industrial agriculture on the continent, as a trend towards local, small-scale production and consumption gathers momentum.
A majority of the EU governments are thought to be in favor of renewing the weedkiller’s approval, but large member states like Germany are among those thought to be undecided.
Chancellor Angela Merkel and her Christian Democrats are in favor of a renewal, while their junior coalition government partner, the Social Democrats are against it on public health risk grounds.
While Germany abstained from Monday’s vote, Social Democrat environment minister Barbara Hendricks praised its outcome.
"Many member states want to first see the question of cancer risks settled before glyphosate can continue to be used on our fields," she said in statement. "I very much hope that we will now enter into a serious debate".
Environmental groups also welcomed the results of the vote, with Greenpeace representative Franziska Achterberg saying that "extending the glyphosate license would be like smelling gas and refusing to evacuate to check for a leak."
The World Health Organization said in a study last year that glyphosate possibly caused cancer - but another study made by the world body later reached different results. The EU's own industry watchdog, the Euroepan Food Safety Authority, has not identified a cancer risk.
The issue will now be taken up by an EU appeal committee. If it also fails to reach a decision on whether approval for glyphosate should be extended, the European Commission will act as the last instance.
A spokesperson for the commission Alexander Winterstein urged member sates to come to a decision.
"This is for the member states to take their responsibilities and it’s not going to be possible to hide behind the commission," he said.
Even with a glyphosate license in place, each EU government is free to decide whether or not to authorize products containing the active ingredient for their national markets.
jd/uhe (dpa, AFP)