EU Commission to Extend Use of Glyphosate for 10 More Years

The bloc's member nations failed to reach an agreement on the chemical.

Containers of Roundup sit on a store shelf on San Francisco, Feb. 24, 2019.
Containers of Roundup sit on a store shelf on San Francisco, Feb. 24, 2019.
AP Photo/Haven Daley, File

BRUSSELS (AP) — The European Commission will continue the use of the controversial chemical herbicide glyphosate in the European Union for 10 more years after the 27 member countries again failed to find a common position for or against a prolongation.

Representatives of EU states were unable to reach a decision last month, and a new vote by an appeal committee was again unconclusive on Thursday. Because of the deadlock, the EU's executive arm said it will endorse its own proposal and renew the approval of glyphosate for 10 years, with new conditions attached.

"These restrictions include a prohibition of pre-harvest use as a desiccant and the need for certain measures to protect non-target organisms," it said in a statement.

The chemical, which is widely used in the bloc to the great anger of environment groups, had been approved in the EU market until mid-December.

The Greens political group of the EU Parliament immediately urged the Commission to backpedal and ban the use of glyphosate.

"We should not gamble with our biodiversity and public health like this," said Bas Eickhout, the vice chair of the Environment Committee.

Over the past decade, glyphosate, used in products like the weedkiller Roundup, has been at the heart of heated scientific debate about whether it causes cancer and its possible disruptive effect on the environment. The chemical was introduced by chemical giant Monsanto in 1974 as an effective way of killing weeds while leaving crops and other plants intact.

Bayer bought Monsanto for $63 billion in 2018 and has been trying to deal with thousands of claims and lawsuits related to Roundup. In 2020, Bayer announced it would pay up to $10.9 billion to settle about 125,000 filed and unfiled claims. Just weeks ago, a California jury awarded $332 million to a man who sued Monsanto contending that his cancer was related to decades of using Roundup.

The France-based International Agency for Research on Cancer, which is part of the World Health Organization, classified glyphosate as a "probable human carcinogen" in 2015.

But the EU's food safety agency paved the way for a 10-year extension when it said in July it "did not identify critical areas of concern" in the use of glyphosate.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency found in 2020 that the herbicide did not pose a health risk to people, but a federal appeals court in California last year ordered the agency to reexamine that ruling, saying it wasn't supported by enough evidence.

The 10-year extension proposed by the European Commission required a "qualified majority," defined as 55% of the 27 members representing at least 65% of the total EU population of some 450 million people. That was not achieved, leaving the final say to the EU's executive arm.

Pascal Canfin, the chair of the Environment committee at the European Parliament, blamed the EU Commission president for moving forward despite the stalemate.

"Ursula von der Leyen is therefore forcing the issue by re-authorizing glyphosate for 10 years without any majority, while the continent's three biggest agricultural powers (France, Germany and Italy) have not supported this proposal," he wrote on X, the social network formerly known as Twitter. "I deeply regret this."

In France, President Emmanuel Macron had committed to ban glyphosate before 2021 but has since backpedaled, and the country said before the vote it would abstain rather than ask for a prohibition.

EU member states are responsible for authorizing the use of products in their national markets, following a safety evaluation.

Germany, the EU's biggest economy, plans to stop using glyphosate from next year, but the decision could be challenged. Luxembourg's national ban, for instance, was overturned in court earlier this year.

Greenpeace had called on the EU to reject the market reapproval, citing studies indicating that glyphosate may cause cancer and other health problems and could also be toxic to bees. The agroindustry sector, however, says there are no viable alternatives.

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