Scientists with global ag input giant Bayer say the facts are on their side as the future of glyphosate use in Europe is under review.  

Bayer scientists on Tuesday discussed a June draft report from regulators in four European Union countries that concluded the chemical meets the EU approval criteria for renewed registrationThey also underscored the company's belief that the product offers a level of effectiveness that isn't available in its alternatives. 

Glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup, is approved through Dec. 15, 2022, in Europe. Following up on the draft report issued by France, Sweden, Hungary and the Netherlands, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) will launch consultations this September.

Responding to a question from one listener, Bayer EU regulatory lead Kristian Kather said Bayer believes there is no good substitute for glyphosate and that the product “should not be discarded lightly.”

Many alternatives “are not more environmentally friendly,” he said, offering a familiar defense of the most widely used herbicide in the world — that its control of weeds allows farmers to employ no-till or reduced-till systems.

The EU's four-nation Assessment Group on Glyphosate “said they see all conditions fulfilled for approval,” Kather said, noting the AGG concluded the chemical does not need to be classified as a germ cell mutagen or as carcinogenic or a reproductive toxicant.

On the issue of the chemical’s effect on biodiversity, which has been raised as a concern by numerous environmental groups, Kather said Bayer “concluded that we have sufficient data to prove that there is very little, if any concern” but added the company is “also certainly aware that these biodiversity concerns need to be taken seriously.”

“We are clearly advocating for a very conscious and targeted application of glyphosate,” Kather said, with other speakers also mentioning the importance of targeted applications — that is, only spraying weeds.

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Bayer’s Bill Reeves noted that glyphosate allows farmers to control weeds without tillage. “You don't have to turn over the soil, you can leave it in place, erosion has decreased, greenhouse gas emissions are decreased. Currently, Europe lags the rest of the world in conservation agriculture. Removing glyphosate as an option ensures they will stay there.”

The AGG did conclude that “the risk assessment for aquatic organisms needs to be revised to take into account the updated concentrations for surface water and sediment and additional toxicity data.”

In addition, the AGG said, “Based on the available ecotoxicological information [on] glyphosate, the current classification, ‘Toxic to aquatic life with long-lasting effects’ should be retained.”

“The information provided on birds, bees, non-target arthropods, soil organisms and non-target plants is considered sufficient to fulfill the data requirements and assess the risk related to the intended uses,” the AGG said. “Some points of clarification have been identified, to be delivered during the commenting period, to further justify the reliability of some studies.”

Despite the positive language in the AGG report, some EU member states could take a different approach, the Bayer scientists said. For example, Germany is considering phasing out the use of glyphosate. The German cabinet approved draft legislation in February to end its use by 2024, but Kather said EU countries can decide after the EU process is completed whether they want to ban the substance.

“If we can provide proof that there is no safety issue, and there is good efficacy, there shouldn't be any reason” for a phaseout, he said.

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