A French farmer sprays glyphosate-based herbicide Roundup 720, in Piace, northwestern France, April 2021. The EU is evaluating whether to reauthorise the controversial weedkiller. Photo: JEAN-FRANCOIS MONIER/AFP via Getty Images A French farmer sprays glyphosate-based herbicide Roundup 720, in Piace, northwestern France, April 2021. The EU is evaluating whether to reauthorise the controversial weedkiller. Photo: JEAN-FRANCOIS MONIER/AFP via Getty Images

Four EU governments conclude glyphosate poses ‘no risk to human health’

A group of member states tasked with assessing the controversial weedkiller glyphosate as its EU licence comes up for renewal has concluded that it poses no risk to people, but campaigners say the findings contradict scientific evidence.

The national authorities of France, Hungary, Sweden and the Netherlands submitted their draft report – which runs to 11,000 pages – to the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) and the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) on Tuesday, as the first step in the process of reassessing EU approval for the active substance.

They conclude that there is little evidence in scientific studies to justify labelling glyphosate as genotoxic, mutagenic or carcinogenic, toxic to the reproductive system or other organs, or an endocrine disruptor.

But their draft report does recommend more conservative reference values for use in risk assessments for human health, and says the eco-toxicological information available indicates it should continue to be considered toxic to aquatic life with long-lasting effects.

The Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL) expressed alarm at the member states’ findings. “The International Agency for Research on Cancer already concluded that exposure to glyphosate is linked to cancer in 2015,” said Angeliki Lyssimachou, the group’s senior science policy officer.

The draft report “is a major step backwards and it highlights remaining questions about the objectivity and independence of Europe’s safety assessment of pesticides”, Lyssimachou said.

EU regulators ECHA and EFSA will both organise public consultations on the draft report, to be launched in September. EFSA will carry out a peer review and ECHA’s Risk Assessment Committee will review glyphosate’s safety classification by March 2022. The European Commission will then prepare a proposal on whether or not to renew EU authorisation for the systemic herbicide, which will be subject to approval by member states.

Glyphosate is currently authorised for use in the EU until December 2022. Campaigners and lawmakers have frequently criticised EFSA for what they see as an inadequate approvals process. A hundred MEPs wrote in February demanding more stringent safety assessments, while a report this month from Pesticide Action Network (PAN) Europe accused the agency of pro-industry bias, an accusation EFSA vehemently denied.

simon.pickstone@haymarket.com

Follow-up: Draft report, ECHA statement

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