London (08.05.17) – After all the huffing and puffing, there is some sign of movement. Because the EU Member States failed on June 6th and again on June 24th, 2016 to take responsibility for the decision on glyphosate use extension, the European Commission decided to extend the existing approval, to the end of 2017 at the latest, the until European Chemical Agency issued its opinion (1).

Well, the European Chemical Agency has come up trumps and decided that glyphosate should not be classified as a carcinogen. "This conclusion was based both on the human evidence and the weight of the evidence of all the animal studies reviewed," said Tim Bowmer, chairman of ECHA's Committee for Risk Assessment, in an online briefing (2).

But things do not happen quickly in Brussels. The Commission expects to resume talks with Member States on re-approving the use of glyphosate after receiving the formal opinion from ECHA, expected by August. A decision would be taken within six months after that or by the end of 2017 at "at the latest", a Commission spokesman said. Perhaps that is fast for Brussels id not in the real world.

There were the usual lack of surprises. EFSA, the European Food Safety Authority, which had earlier found glyphosate to be "unlikely to pose a carcinogenic hazard to humans", welcomed ECHA's opinion as did lobby groups for farmers. Greenpeace thought that “the data vastly exceeds what's legally necessary for the EU to ban glyphosate, but ECHA has looked the other way.” Well, they would think that, wouldn’t they?

And while the Europeans have been occupied (preoccupied?) with their own evaluation, Health Canada (3) has concluded that glyphosate is not genotoxic and is unlikely to pose a human cancer risk, that dietary (food and drinking water) exposure associated with the use of glyphosate is not expected to pose a risk of concern to human health, nor are occupational and residential risks associated with the use of glyphosate are not of concern, provided that updated label instructions are followed. The Canadian environmental assessment concluded that spray buffer zones are necessary to mitigate potential risks to non-target species (for example, vegetation near treated areas, aquatic invertebrates and fish) from spray drift. When used according to revised label directions, glyphosate products are not expected to pose risks of concern to the environment. All registered glyphosate uses have value for weed control in agriculture and non-agricultural land management.

We had hoped by now to have ended our reporting of the tortuous path to reauthorisation of glyphosate through the agencies of the European Union but we fear our hopes may have been premature. All the same there is some sort of light at the end of the tunnel, at least in one corner of Europe. On March 29th 2019 the United Kingdom, according to present plans, will no longer be a member of the European Union. The country will in principle be free from the tortuous thinking that keeps the Brussels bureaucracy occupied. What then? Is there hope in Britain for more reasoned and more reasonable policies in the realm of agricultural biotechnology? The signs are promising. Hold your breath, just a little.

Sources:

1. Pesticides: after EU Member States fail to take responsibility for the decision on glyphosate extension, Commission extends the approval until European Chemical Agency issues its opinion. European Commission - Daily News (29.06.16). (http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_MEX-16-2357_en.htm)

2. Jussi Rosendahl and Tuomas Forsell (15.03.17). EU chemical agency says weed killer glyphosate not carcinogenic. Reuters (http://uk.reuters.com/article/us-health-eu-glyphosate-idUKKBN16M1KM)

3. Re-evaluation decision RVD2017-01, glyphosate. Health Canada (28.04.17) (http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/cps-spc/pubs/pest/_decisions/rvd2017-01/index-eng.php)

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  Are we (again) reaching the end of the glyphosate story?