EU member states have voted to renew the licence for the controversial weedkiller glyphosate for five years, a compromise that has left both supporters and detractors of the herbicide unhappy. The decision, which was voted on by EU experts representing each member state, was carried by 18 votes in favour with nine voting against and one country abstaining. In a ballot that required a yes from countries representing more than 65 percent of the EU population to pass, Germany’s vote in favour just about brought it over the line for glyphosate bringing it to 65.71 percent. Germany had abstained in previous rounds of voting due to the opposition of the Social Democrats who governed in coalition with Angela Merkel’s CDU, who were in favour of renewing the licence. However with German politics in limbo since the breakdown in talks to form a new coalition last week, the caretaker government took the opportunity to change its stance.
The passage of the vote has been met with outrage by environmental organisations and many, mostly left-leaning politicians for whom the chemical and the company that manufactures it, Monsanto, represents the worst example of regulatory capture by the agrochemical industry.
Glyphosate, which is the active agent in the world’s best selling weedkiller, Roundup, became embroiled in controversy in 2015 when it was labelled as “probably carcinogenic to humans” by the International Agency for Research on Cancer. This finding has been refuted by several other global health bodies including the European Food Safety Authority, but negative publicity continues to dog the company after it was accused of ghostwriting scientific reports for regulators and launching a smear campaign against critical scientists and journalists. The company is also battling a lawsuit brought against it by farmers in Nebraska who say exposure to Roundup gave them non-Hodgkin Lymphoma.
If environmentalists are angered by the decision those who wanted the weedkiller’s licence to be renewed for 15 years, as with previous licences, were also left disappointed by what Conservative MEPs called “an emotional, irrational but politically convenient fudge.” Monsanto took to Twitter to express its frustration with the decision saying: “Glyphosate has fulfilled all requirements for a full 15-year renewal. There is no scientific basis for approving authorisation for only five years.”