MEPs vote for limited approval for glyphosate herbicide

A crop sprayer at work near Diss.

A crop sprayer at work near Diss. - Credit: Eastern Daily Press © 2016

The European Parliament has voiced health concerns over one of the world's most widely-used weedkillers as MEPs voted for a limited licence renewal with conditions on its use.

A resolution was passed by 374 votes to 225, with 102 abstentions, recommending the EU Commission renews glyphosate's marketing approval for another seven years, rather than the 15 years originally proposed.

But the non-binding resolution calls for several restrictions including that the herbicide should only be authorised for professional use, and not used in or close to public parks, public playgrounds and public gardens.

The health concerns stemmed from a report by the World Health Organisation's International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) which concluded glyphosate was 'probably carcinogenic to humans'.

Those findings were disputed by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) which subsequently published a report, concluding glyphosate was 'unlikely to pose a carcinogenic hazard to humans'.

MEPs called on the Commission and EFSA to 'immediately disclose all the scientific evidence that has been a basis for the positive classification of glyphosate'.

But while more scientific evidence is gathered, the amended resolution was welcomed by both farming leaders and environmental campaigners.

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Meurig Raymond, president of the National Farmers' Union, said: 'The result of this vote is very welcome news. It's fundamental that the agricultural sector is able to use glyphosate responsibly in order to produce healthy products across the sector entering the food chain, reduce our greenhouse gas emissions and continue to farm sustainably.

'We prioritised meeting with MEPs ahead of the vote in Strasbourg this week to make absolutely sure that they are aware of the importance of glyphosate for farming and adding balance to any skewed views on the issue. This work was strengthened by the many letters from farmers to their local MEPs, and I thank those who took the time to do so.

'It's absolutely vital that policy is led by the most up to date scientific evidence out there. I'm glad we've seen evidence of this today.'

Sustainable farming campaigners at the Soil Association also claimed a victory in their bid to stop glyphosate being sprayed on wheat before it finds its way into British bread.

MEPs condemned as 'unacceptable' the use of glyphosate in a farming practice described as 'green burndown' – the killing of crop plants prior to harvest in order to accelerate ripening and facilitate harvesting.

Peter Melchett, policy director at the Soil Association, who also runs an organic farm in west Norfolk, said: 'Just a few months ago everyone assumed that glyphosate would sail through re-authorisation in the EU without any problems. The decisions by the parliament today are a dramatic blow, not just to the future use of glyphosate but to the pesticide industry generally.'

The full EU Parliament plenary vote followed a vote by the parliament's environment committee in March, recommending the herbicide should not be re-licensed, at least until more research has been done in response to concerns it could be carcinogenic.

In May, national experts on the Standing Committee on Plants, Animals, Food and Feed will vote to adopt or reject the commission proposal.

If there no qualified majority, it will be up to the European Commission to decide on the re-licensing of glyphosate.