The European Commission’s proposal to extend glyphosate’s license in Europe for another decade is likely to fail on Wednesday with several powerful countries looking for a far shorter renewal period.
Diplomats said France and Germany would not support such a lengthy new license for the widely used weedkiller, thanks to a heated debate over whether it causes cancer. They said discussions were now focusing on rolling over the license for between two and five years.
French President Emmanuel Macron has already opposed the 10-year renewal, and his Ecology Minister Nicolas Hulot said Monday he would support extending glyphosate’s EU license by just three years, allowing time to search for alternatives.
In an interview with RTL radio, he acknowledged that more senior French ministers could stretch the timeframe a little, but added: “I think the idea that it’s below five years seems more coherent for everybody.”
A new permit for glyphosate — the active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide — has turned into one of the most contentious dossiers to hit Brussels in the past two years. The herbicide has jumped so far up the region’s list of political priorities that Macron last week pitched new cash to help farmers phase it out.
Also on Monday, European Commissioner for Health and Food Safety Vytenis Andriukaitis met with representatives of the Stop Glyphosate European Citizens’ Initiative, which has garnered support from more than one million people across the Continent. The subject is also set to be discussed on Tuesday at a meeting of commissioners in Strasbourg ahead of a key vote in the European Parliament on phasing out the pesticide out by 2020.
Two diplomats preparing government positions ahead of Wednesday’s possible vote inside the Commission’s Standing Committee on Plants, Animals, Food and Feed said the current proposal lacked support not only from Paris, but also from Berlin.
In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel is attempting to bring the Green Party on board to form a coalition government, meaning she “cannot say yes” to the 10-year proposal, one of the officials said. He added that a proposal to renew glyphosate for between two and five years “might be interesting for many countries.”
Portugal, Italy, France, Belgium and Greece have not settled on a position, while Austria will vote against. Sweden, Spain and the U.K. are more supportive of the Commission’s proposal.
Anca Paduraru, a Commission spokesperson, said today that any change to the Commission’s proposal would require member countries to come forward with an official request.
“Someone needs to request for the current proposal to be changed and for the moment no one asked for this,” she said at a daily news briefing in Brussels.
Glyphosate has been at the center of controversy since the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer concluded that it is a probable carcinogen in 2015. Subsequent studies by the European Food Safety Authority and the European Chemicals Agency found that the chemical is safe, however.
Adding to the debate are widespread concerns about the effects glyphosate has on biodiversity and soil quality. Earlier this year researchers from the University of Rostock questioned a long-held belief among scientists that glyphosate rapidly degrades and is absorbed by the soil after application.
Meanwhile, researchers such as Bob Fairclough, a director at Kleffmann Group — a consultancy that has conducted extensive market research on the effects of a glyphosate ban — have calculated that farms in Germany would lose €600 million per year due to a loss in yields and quality.
This could force brewers in the German beer market to source barley from other regions such as Ukraine, adding to costs and consumer prices, Fairclough said.