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Brussels says glyphosate safe enough for ‘full’ re-approval

The European Commission is readying a proposal for the controversial herbicide glyphosate to receive a full stamp of approval from member states and be re-authorized for use in the EU, according to a leaked draft document.

The document, in which the Commission refers to the recent summary conclusions of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) on glyphosate’s safety, states that “it may be expected” that pesticide products based on the herbicide will continue to meet the safety requirements laid down in EU legislation.

The opinion could pave the way for the chemical to be approved for a standard 15-year period.

Developed in the 1970s, glyphosate is the active ingredient in the world’s most widely used pesticides, but critics say it has been linked to cancer and can be harmful to wildlife. It was last approved for use in the EU in 2017 — but only for five years — in a highly controversial process. That five-year license was extended for another 12 months in December last year.

Earlier this month, EFSA published a summary of its forthcoming conclusions that the use of glyphosate in agriculture does not pose “critical areas of concern” for human, animal or environmental health. Environmental groups and green lawmakers have called the findings “shocking” and accused the food safety watchdog of pro-industry bias.

The Commission presented the document to national representatives at the Standing Committee on Plant, Animal, Food and Feed (SCOPAFF) last week, on July 11 and 12. This marks the start of the process to grant the weedkiller a new EU license before the current one expires at the end of the year. National representatives will resume discussions on whether or not to reauthorize glyphosate in September. A vote is expected in October.

Advocacy group Pesticide Action Network Europe, which obtained the leaked document, condemned the Commission’s move, which it said should not happen until EFSA publishes its full conclusions and all background documents. The former is expected before the end of July and the latter between the end of August and mid-October.

Full transparency

“The Commission is acting in full transparency and has followed the usual procedure in these cases,” said a Commission spokesperson, adding that the EU executive is “fully committed to ensuring that the approval of active substances in plant protection products, such as glyphosate, is based on the most recent scientific evidence and in strict compliance with EU law.”

While the EU’s food safety regulator did not identify any “critical areas of concern” for human, animal and environmental health from glyphosate use in agriculture, it noted that the risk assessment could not be completed for a number of key endpoints. EFSA also acknowledged that there is evidence linking the use of the herbicide to neurotoxicity, damage to the microbiome and harm to biodiversity.

PAN Europe called EFSA’s decision to issue a positive opinion “embarrassing” and wrote to the agency’s head, Bernhard Url, on July 13, arguing that the conclusions violate EU rules by undermining the “well-established” health and environmental risks associated with glyphosate.

In a press release on Monday, the NGO accused the Commission of wanting to re-authorize the weedkiller without restrictions, even though it does not meet EU criteria for health and environmental protection.

“DG Sante is turning a blind eye to the toxicity issues and data gaps identified by EFSA in relation to glyphosate use and is secretly trying to quickly reissue its license by evading any public scrutiny,” said PAN Europe’s Angeliki Lyssimachou. “It is simply outrageous to witness the Commission undermining democratic rules and transparency in favor of granting a license to such a harmful pesticide.”