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Farmers relieved as EU glyphosate licence finally renewed for five years

PUBLISHED: 16:17 27 November 2017 | UPDATED: 16:17 27 November 2017

A crop sprayer at work in north Norfolk. Picture: Matthew Usher.

A crop sprayer at work in north Norfolk. Picture: Matthew Usher.

© ARCHANT NORFOLK 2016

East Anglia’s farmers have “breathed a sigh of relief” after the world’s most widely-used weedkiller was finally re-licensed after a long-running EU debate over its safety.

Guy Smith, vice president of the National Farmers' Union Guy Smith, vice president of the National Farmers' Union

After several delays, the European Commission’s proposal to renew the authorisation for glyphosate has now achieved the necessary qualified majority of Member States, with 18 voting in favour, nine against and one abstention.

Although the licence is shorter than the 15 years which agricultural lobby groups had originally hoped for, the decision was welcomed by the industry.

National Farmers’ Union (NFU) vice president Guy Smith, who also chairs the Norfolk Farming Conference, said: “I would like to pay tribute to the farmers across the country who have lobbied their MEPs and invited them out on to farm to see first-hand the benefits glyphosate brings, and those who have made the case for glyphosate’s reauthorisation on social media. I am convinced their efforts have helped us reach this positive outcome.

“It is good news that farmers and growers will be able to continue using glyphosate for another five years.

“However, the fact remains that there is absolutely no regulatory reason why it should not have been reauthorised for 15 years, as was originally proposed.

“Today’s decision will be welcomed by farmers who have watched with growing concern as what should have been a straightforward decision has become increasingly political. The NFU has repeatedly said that decisions like this must be based on science and evidence. This clearly hasn’t happened in this case.

“Independent regulatory bodies around the world, including the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA), have looked at all the scientific evidence and concluded glyphosate is safe to use. But their conclusions have been ignored and their credibility has been undermined.

“Glyphosate reduces the need to use other herbicides, it helps to protect soil and cut greenhouse gas emissions by reducing the need for ploughing, and it enables farmers in this country to grow crops that help produce safe, affordable, high quality British food.”

READ MORE: The pesticide divide: Two sides to the glyphosate debate

CLA (Country Land and Business Association) president Tim Breitmeyer, who farms on the Cambridgeshire-Essex border, added: “Farmers will breathe a sigh of relief at this news. It will ensure at least for now that we can continue to use this essential tool for tackling pervasive problems like grassweed infestation and means we will not have to resort to less effective specialist chemicals. It will also preserve the vital weapon in the armoury for farmers to continue to explore conservation tillage practices where appropriate.

“We are grateful that the UK government has stood firm behind the scientific evidence throughout this saga when many other Member States succumbed to the intense pressure placed by campaigning organisations. However, this is a temporary reprieve and the EU should move away from the political decision-making that is now prevalent in Brussels, and follow a sound science-based approach. It is time for an urgent rethink of how decisions on these important matters can be made.”

CONFLICTING CLAIMS

The licence for glyphosate, which is the main ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup product, was due to expire on December 15.

The EU risk assessment process before renewing the substance’s authorisation was mired in controversy, amid conflicting scientific claims about its safety.

A 2015 study by the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) said glyphosate was “probably carcinogenic to humans”, but that finding was later contradicted in studies by EFSA (European Food Safety Authority) and the European Chemicals Agency’s (ECHA’s) Committee for Risk Assessment.

While environmental campaigners believe there is enough evidence to ban the product, farmers say its loss could prompt significant yield losses for winter wheat and barley, and prompt a change of cropping patterns as growers find new ways to control weeds like black-grass without a viable chemical alternative.

The campaigners against glyphosate include Peter Melchett, policy director of Soil Association, who also runs an organic farm in west Norfolk.

“The weight of scientific evidence suggesting glyphosate is not safe, including evidence from internal Monsanto papers, is increasing all the time,” he said. “The chronic uncertainty that has so delayed a decision by the EU should not stop (environment secretary) Michael Gove doing things that everyone agrees on, namely banning the spraying of glyphosate on crops immediately pre-harvest and banning glyphosate use in public places like parks, streets and playgrounds, in line with the European Parliament’s and the Commission’s advice.”

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