The European Commission on Tuesday proposed to renew the license for the weedkiller glyphosate for a shorter than usual five to seven years, as the EU took into account fears it causes cancer.
The commission, the European bloc’s executive arm, had originally recommended the licence for the herbicide be renewed for 10 years, but faced a growing uproar over the alleged dangers of its use.
The EU commission’s top officials “asked our representatives to explore … if broad support is structured around a period of renewal of five to seven years,” said commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas after a meeting of European commissioners in Strasbourg, France.
The shift came a day before the EU’s 28 member states vote on whether to renew the glyphosate licence in Europe and just hours after the European Parliament approved a non-binding resolution calling for the chemical be banned by 2022.
Glyphosate critics, led by environmental campaigners Greenpeace, are calling for an outright ban in Europe and on Monday activists handed the EU a petition signed by more than 1.3 million people backing such a move.
MEPs said the licence should be renewed for only five years and criticised the commission’s proposal, saying it “fails to ensure a high level of protection of both human and animal health and the environment (and) fails to apply the precautionary principle”.
They called for a halt to non-professional use of glyphosate when its licence runs out in December 15 and for its use to end near public parks and playgrounds.
One of Europe’s heaviest users, France has already said it will phase out glyphosate by 2022, with the government setting aside five billion euros over five years to support the development of an alternative.
Opponents of glyphosate, used in Monsanto’s best-selling herbicide Roundup, point to a 2015 study by the World Health Organization’s (WHO) International Agency for Research on Cancer that concluded it was “probably carcinogenic”.
This contradicted findings by the European Food Safety Authority and the European Chemicals Agency, which both said glyphosate was unlikely to cause cancer in humans, in line with a 2016 review carried out by other WHO experts and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization.
Graeme Taylor of the European Crop Protection Association, said it was “encouraging” that parliament had voted to reapprove the weedkiller, albeit for a reduced period, but took aim at glyphosate critics.
“It’s a real pity that MEPs allow themselves to be influenced by NGOs who claim to represent public opinion, but only represent hostility toward industry, and more worryingly, hostility toward science,” he said.
Monsanto maintains that glyphosate “meets or exceeds all requirements for full renewal under European law and regulation” and says the renewal procedure has in “many respects been hijacked by populism.”