European Union governments failed on last Friday to give a decisive opinion on a proposal to extend by 10 years EU approval for the use of glyphosate, the active ingredient in Bayer AG's Roundup weedkiller.
A "qualified majority" of 15 countries representing at least 65% of the bloc's population had been required either to support or to block the proposal.
The European Commission said in a statement there was no qualified majority either way in a vote by a committee of the EU's 27 members.
EU governments will try again in the first half of November when another failure to produce a clear opinion would leave the decision with the European Commission.
A decision is needed by December 14 as the current approval expires the following day.
The previous time glyphosate's licence came up for re-approval, the EU gave it a five-year extension after EU countries twice failed to support a 10-year period.
Bayer has said decades of studies have shown it is safe and the chemical has been widely used by farmers, or to clear weeds from railway lines for decades.
The company said on last Friday that a clear majority of EU countries had voted in favour of the proposal and that it was hopeful sufficient additional countries would support it in the next step of the approval process.
France was among a number of countries that abstained.
French farm minister Marc Fesneau said it was not opposed to glyphosate per se, but opposed the Commission's proposal, wanting instead to limit use of glyphosate to instances where there was no viable alternative.
Campaign group Pesticides Action Network says that there are serious question marks about the safety assessments and that the majority of citizens polled in six EU countries believe glyphosate should be banned.
Green members of the European Parliament welcomed the delay and urged member states to vote for a complete ban of glyphosate.
″It is irresponsible to again renew the authorization of the use of glyphosate,″ said Bas Eickhout, the vice-chair of the Parliament’s environment committee. ″This would give the big agri a blank check to earn billions by selling a pesticide for which there are still big gaps in knowledge about the effects on our health, and at the same time poses large risks for European biodiversity.″
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 Monsanto in 1974 as an effective way of killing weeds while leaving crops and plants intact.
The France-based International Agency for Research on Cancer, which is part of the World Health Organization, classified it as a ″probable human carcinogen″ in 2015. The EU’s food safety agency had paved the way for the 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 ordered the agency last year to reexamine that ruling, saying it wasn’t supported by enough evidence.
EU member states are responsible for authorizing the use of products including the chemical on their national markets, following a safety evaluation.
In France, President Emmanuel Macron had committed to ban glyphosate before 2021 but has since backpedaled. Germany, the EU‘s biggest economy, plans to stop using it 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, claims there are no viable alternatives.
″Whatever the final decision that emerges from this re-authorization process, there is one reality that member states will have to face up to,″ said Copa-Cogeca, a group representing farmers and agricultural cooperatives. ″There is as of yet no equivalent alternative to this herbicide, and without it, many agricultural practices, notably soil conservation, would be rendered complex, leaving farmers with no solutions.″