The controversy on the re-approval of glyphosate (Roundup) is at its very high.
The European Commission – as shown again recently in The Guardian – seems hell bent on granting glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto’s toxic herbicide Roundup, re-approval. This is despite the fact that the World Health Organisation’s cancer institute IARC declared the substance as “probably causing cancer to humans”, and that EU pesticides rules say such substances should be banned.
The re-authorisation is being sought by the Glyphosate Task Force (GTF), an industry platform uniting producers of glyphosate-based herbicides, whose members include Monsanto, Dow Agrosciences, Syngenta, and Barclay Chemicals. Richard Garnett, a lobbyist for Monsanto Europe, is chair of the Glyphosate Task Force.
Already at two occasions, votes in the meetings of the “Standing Committee on Plants, Animals, Food and Feed” of DG SANTE of the European Commission have been postponed due to lack of consensus among the Member States. Germany and France are the heavy-weights among the abstentions or no-votes.
However, time is running out. The authorisation for glyphosate is running out on 30 June 2016. Once the authorisation is expired without a decision by the EU for renewal or not, Monsanto will bring the case to court.
Next week, at yet another meeting of the Standing Committee, the Commission will desperately try to get to a decision. On 1 June, Health Commissioner Andriukaitis stressed that the Commission absolutely wants a majority support from the EU member states for their proposal. Amidst all the critique on Bfr (German risk assessment agency) and EFSA's opinions, the Commission does not want to take all the blame for a re-authorisation. The proposal is now an extension of the approval for 18 months, without any restrictions on the use of glyphosate, until the European Chemical Agency ECHA has had the chance to assess the risks of glyphosate.
But there is still a lot we don't know. Three industry-sponsored carcinogenicity studies on mice, in particular, are not accessible to IARC while EFSA insists they played an important role in informing its decision. Several MEPs and NGOs have officially called on EFSA to publish the studies, so far to no avail. The argument given is that the studies are 'trade secrets'.
In the mean time, the European Commission, EFSA and the industry discussed together the idea of a 'reading room' (just like for TTIP) to give a selected audience access to the studies. This is of course no solution as it does not enable other scientists to scrutinise the data. In any case, such a reading room has not been put in place.
We also don't know what a re-authorisation will mean for the amount of glyphosate that we will be exposed to in the end. We should not forget that Germany recommended not only glyphosate's re-approval, but even an increase in the acceptable daily intake (ADI) by 66% (from 0.3 to 0.5 mg per kg body weight per day)!