On 29 June, the European Commission (EC) temporarily extended EU authorisation of the controversial weedkiller glyphosate for 18 months, until the end of 2017.
Glyphosate is said to be the most widely applied herbicide around the world and is used with GM crops such as soyabeans, as well as with rapeseed in the EU.
The licence for glyphosate-based herbicides in the EU was expiring on 30 June and was due to be extended for up to 15 years.
However, the EC’s Standing Committee on Plants, Animals, Food and Feed failed to produce a qualified majority for action and, in a compromise move, the EC temporarily extended the licence.
When making proposals for another vote, the EC said it would take into account the “extremely thorough and stringent scientific assessment of the active substance by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and national agencies”.
It also said the 18-month extension would give it time to assess a report commissioned from the European Chemicals Agency to examine evidence on whether glyphosate caused cancer.
In March 2015 the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer classified glyphosate as "probably carcinogenic in humans”.
However, in November, 2015, the EFSA published an updated assessment report on glyphosate, concluding that "the substance is unlikely to be genotoxic or to pose a carcinogenic threat to humans".
Glyphosate was first marketed by Monsanto in 1974 under the trade name Roundup.
Philip Miller, Monsanto’s vice president of global regulatory and governmental affairs, said “the overwhelming majority of scientific evidence and the EU’s own regulatory agencies have declared glyphosate safe for use”.
“Monsanto urges the EC to present a proposal for full renewal under the regulatory framework.”
Since 1974 in the USA, over 1.6bn kg of glyphosate active ingredient have been applied, or 19 % of estimated global use of glyphosate (8.6bn kg), according to the report, ‘Trends in glyphosate herbicide use in the United States and globally’, published in Environmental Sciences Europe in February 2016. “Globally, glyphosate use has risen almost 15-fold since Roundup Ready genetically engineered glyphosate-tolerant crops were introduced in 1996.”
GM herbicide-tolerant crops now accounted for about 56% of global glyphosate use, the report said.