The European Union has delayed a vote on renewing sales approval for the herbicide glyphosate amid a row over whether it may cause cancer.
EU sources said the vote was postponed due to opposition in France and Germany, which have big farming and chemicals industries. EU experts will meet on 6 June, their third meeting on this matter, to try to reach agreement on whether to extend glyphosate’s license. The Standing Committee on Plants, Animals, Food and Feed is made up of experts from the 28 EU member states. They must decide by qualified majority whether to adopt or reject a European Commission proposal to extend glyphosate’s license before it expires on 30 June 2016.
If an agreement cannot be reached before then, manufacturers must phase out glyphosate products from the market over six months. Glyphosate is currently the world’s most widely-used weedkiller, popular with gardeners and farmers and used in Monsanto’s Roundup.
Reuters reports that Germany had planned to abstain from voting because ministries run by different parties in the ruling coalition remain at odds. In response to opposition, the EU executive had already postponed a vote on re-approval in March and shortened the proposed licence to nine years from 15 years. In April, the European Parliament recommended that glyphosate should only be approved for another seven years, and should not be used by the general public.
As the debates were continuing in Brussels, German chemicals group Bayer made an unsolicited takeover bid for US seeds company Monsanto, for which the regulatory controversy over glyphosate has been one of a number of recent problems.
Experts from the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and World Health Organization (WHO) say glyphosate is unlikely to pose a risk to humans exposed to it through food.
The finding matches that of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), an independent agency funded by the European Union, but runs counter to a March 2015 study by the WHO’s Lyon-based International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC).
That agency said glyphosate is “probably” able to cause cancer in humans and classified it as a ‘Group 2A’ carcinogen. It says it assesses whether the substance can cause cancer in any way – regardless of real-life conditions on typical levels of human exposure or consumption.
Environmental groups have questioned the independence of the bodies, and called for the EU to err on the side of caution. “The Commission has continued to ignore the concerns of independent scientists, MEPs and European citizens,” Greenpeace’s EU food policy director Franziska Achterberg said in a statement.