Germany provided the key swing vote Monday in the European Union’s approval of glyphosate for another five years.
The country, which had abstained in previous votes on renewing the active ingredient in Monsanto's Roundup, supported the European Commission’s five-year proposal, barely tipping the balance for approval.
In the EU, 55 percent of the 28 member states representing 65 percent of the EU population must approve proposals from the EC, the EU’s governing arm. The populations of the 16 nations that voted for approval represent 65.7 percent of the population. (Sixteen is the minimum number of countries that had to vote in favor.)
“The people who are supposed to protect us from dangerous pesticides have failed to do their jobs and betrayed the trust Europeans place in them,” Greenpeace EU food policy director Franziska Achterberg said in a news release. “The European Commission and most governments have chosen to ignore the warnings of independent scientists, the demands of the European Parliament and the petition signed by more than one million people calling for a glyphosate ban.”
Graeme Taylor, spokesperson for the European Crop Protection Association, said that ECPA is “pleased the substance has been re-approved,” but disappointed that “despite overwhelming scientific evidence,” the approval was for only five years.
“This debate clearly sets many precedents for the future, and one of the most worrying is the way the movement against the substance has been driven by organizations relying on fear rather than science," Taylor said.
But the Glyphosate Task Force, which represents Monsanto and other agrochemical companies, said it was "profoundly disappointed" by the vote. In a statement, the GTF said it "considers this decision to be discriminatory against glyphosate, not related to any scientific assessment and mainly influenced by public perception and driven by politics."
"In the immediate term, this decision seriously undermines the credibility of the EU legislative framework within an international context and will put European agriculture at a competitive disadvantage," the task force said.
Vytenas Andriukaitis, the EC’s commissioner for health and safety, said the vote “shows that when we all want and put effort in it, we are able to accept and to share our collective responsibility in decisionmaking.”
Without action, authorization to use glyphosate would have expired Dec. 15. The EC extended the authorization in June 2016 for 18 months after the EU member states could not reach agreement on the issue. In the interim, the European Chemicals Agency concluded in March that glyphosate is not carcinogenic.
There was still plenty of resistance to any approval at all, as opponents attacked the ECHA analysis and cited the March 2015 conclusion of the International Agency for Research and Cancer that glyphosate probably causes cancer in humans. Supporters of reauthorization argued that the IARC report is both flawed and a glaring exception, as national regulatory agencies throughout the world have found glyphosate is unlikely to be carcinogenic or genotoxic.
France was the largest and most vocal of the opponents. French President Emmanuel Macron announced on Twitter after the vote that he had asked his government “to make the necessary arrangements so that the use of glyphosate is prohibited in France as soon as alternatives have been found, and at the latest in three years.”
Scott Partridge, Monsanto vice president of global strategy, had warned of dire consequences if glyphosate were not renewed in Europe, including more mechanical tillage and a corresponding increase in greenhouse gases.
Voting for continued glyphosate use, according to published reports, were Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and the U.K.
Voting against were Austria, Belgium, Croatia, Cyprus, France, Greece, Italy, Luxembourg, Malta.
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This article was updated to include comments from the Glyphosate Task Force.