MEPs set to vote on controversial glyphosate proposals

MEPs are set to vote this week on the marketing authorisation of controversial herbicide, glyphosate.

Glyphosate is the main active substance in popular herbicide Roundup | Photo credit: Press Association

By Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a senior reporter at the Parliament Magazine

23 Oct 2017

MEPs will vote on a Commission proposal to renew glyphosate’s license for the next 10 years. At the same time, they will vote on a draft resolution that calls for a phasing out of the herbicide and its total ban by 2020.

Parliament’s environment committee rejected the Commission proposal in a non-binding vote last week. Its members say the EU should draw up plans for a phase-out of the substance, starting with a complete ban on household use and a ban in use for farming.  The resolution was approved by 39 votes to nine, with 10 abstentions.
EU member states will vote on the issue on Wednesday.

A European citizen’s initiative (ECI) calling for a ban on the herbicide has reached more than a million signatures in less than a year and will trigger a public hearing in Parliament in November.


Ahead of the key parliamentary votes, representatives from both sides of the fierce debate about glyphosate were lining up on Monday for a burst of last minute lobbying.

A delegation from over 100 organisations, including Greenpeace, supporting a ban on the controversial weed-killer met European health and food safety Commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitis in Brussels on Monday.

The ‘’ petition is the fastest-ever ECI to succeed, with over one million signatures collected across Europe between February and July 2017. The ECI calls on the Commission to ban glyphosate, to reform the pesticide approval process, and to set EU-wide mandatory reduction targets for pesticide use.

Under EU treaty rules, the Commission is required to meet the organisers of the pan-European initiative before Parliament holds a formal hearing.

The World Health Organisation’s cancer experts have said glyphosate causes cancer in animals and is a probable cause of cancer in humans.

However, concerns over scientific assessments of the substance differ widely and EU food safety and chemicals agencies point to different conclusions regarding its safety.

Commenting ahead of this week’s votes, Greens/EFA food safety spokesperson Bart Staes said, “The large agrochemical industry’s arguments are crumbling. We know that there are viable alternatives to toxic herbicides like glyphosate that are both safer for human and animal health and more sustainable.”

The Belgian MEP added, “With the negotiations on the CAP reform due to start soon, now is the perfect time for European policy makers to put in place the right support instruments to help farmers and societies make the rapid transition towards genuinely sustainable farming."

His Dutch colleague Bas Eickhout agreed, saying, “We need to put health and our environment first. With so many serious questions about glyphosate’s safety still unanswered, it would be absolutely reckless for the European Commission to extend its licence.”

But industry is strongly in favour of the Commission proposal to renew the licence for glyphosate for the next 10 years.

Several organisations, including European Crop Protection and EuropaBio, have taken out full page adverts in newspapers outlining their arguments.

The ad reads, “The decision on whether or not to approve is of the utmost importance for farmers in the EU for whom glyphosate is an essential and established part of sustainable and productive agriculture.

“It is essential also for the 26,000 people working in Europe’s crop protection industry.”

The ad states that the safety of the controversial herbicide had been subjected to a “rigorous” and “robust” scientific process, which it had passed.

Glyphosate is an active substance widely used in herbicides. Patented in the early 1970s, it was introduced to the consumer market in 1974 as a broad-spectrum herbicide and quickly became a best-seller. Since its patent expired in 2000, glyphosate has been marketed by various companies and several hundred plant protection products containing glyphosate are currently registered in Europe for use on crops.

Agriculture accounts for 76 per cent of the use of glyphosate worldwide. It is also widely used in forestry, urban and garden applications. Its exposure is on the rise, owing to the increase in the total volume used. 

People are exposed to glyphosate primarily by living near sprayed areas, through home use, and through diet. Glyphosate residues have been detected in water, soil, food and drinks and non-comestible goods, as well as in the human body.


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