stakeholders argue over who has scientific rights – EURACTIV.com
As the EU plans to renew its approval for the controversial herbicide glyphosate, the industry is defending the assessment process while environmental activists have denounced it for not being based on “solid science”.
While glyphosate as an active substance in plant protection products is currently authorized in the EU, the approval is expected to expire in December 2022. At the end of 2019, a renewal process was launched to decide whether the approval should be extended.
Currently, the use of glyphosate is widespread in the EU, with the substance accounting for a third of the volume of herbicide sold in Europe in 2017 according to a study published in 2020.
The issue of renewal remains very controversial as opinions diverge on the impact of glyphosate on health and the environment.
In a 2015 assessment, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), part of the World Health Organization, concluded that the substance was “probably carcinogenic”, i.e. a factor cancer for humans.
During the previous EU approval process, however, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) concluded that âthere is no evidence to link glyphosate to cancer in humans, based on available information â.
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has also approved the substance as “unlikely to pose a carcinogenic risk to humans when exposed through diet”.
EFSA and ECHA are currently assessing whether to renew their approval and concluded parallel public consultations on the matter on 22 November with a total of 416 submissions received.
The comments and data submitted will now be considered by the assessment panel as well as the risk assessment committee of ECHA, an EFSA spokesperson told EURACTIV.
Once the committee has given its opinion on the health risks of glyphosate, it will be “used by EFSA and the representatives of the competent authorities of the EU Member States to finalize the peer review of pesticide risk assessment, “they added, saying this was due to happen in the second half of 2022.
Reassess health risks
The plant protection industry points out that a great deal of scientific data has been collected and evaluated over the years by European safety authorities, concluding that the herbicide is safe.
âThe scientific community and academia have continued to conduct studies to investigate new aspects that were not covered in assessments before,â said Viriginie Ducrot of Glyphosate Renewal Group (GRG).
Health and environmental activists, however, criticized the assessment procedure. In an open letter sent to Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides on October 13, 41 NGOs expressed “concerns (…) particularly about the credibility of the studies that have been provided by the industry” to justify the renewal.
âWe have seen in the past that there was a lot of industry-based scientific assessment and evidence, when there was no access to scrutiny from the outside world,â said Marco Contiero, political director of agriculture at Greenpeace, one of the signatories. EURACTIV.
From Contiero’s perspective, the assessment process also does not sufficiently take into account the possible health threats that could arise from long-term exposure to small amounts of glyphosate, which is “much more complex at times. assess âas acute short-term toxicity.
In its response to the NGO’s letter, Kyriakides defended the process because all available information is taken into account to ensure a rigorous and scientifically sound assessment.
The Commission emphasizes that all studies are taken into account during the renewal process, whether old or new, inviting NGOs to address their concerns through the peer review process.
In exceptional circumstances of serious controversy or conflicting results, the EU executive may ask EFSA to commission scientific studies with the aim of verifying the evidence used in its risk assessment process.
But given that the peer review process for glyphosate only recently started, “it seems premature to conclude at this point that such verification studies are needed,” Kyriakides’ response reads.
Discord over environmental impact
Beyond the issue of health risks, the impact of glyphosate – positive or negative – on the environment and biodiversity is also the subject of heated debate.
Proponents of the revival argue that glyphosate is essential for practicing so-called conservation agriculture, an agricultural approach meant to protect biodiversity and soil health by avoiding tillage.
“This is important because life in the soil usually forms layered layers,” Simon Jeffery, soil ecology reader at Harper Adams University, told a recent EURACTIV debate. “When we invert this soil by tillage, we destroy the habitat of this life,” he added.
According to him, glyphosate is “a key tool in the conservation agriculture toolbox”.
For Contiero of Greenpeace, however, glyphosate and other herbicides are by no means effective tools for biodiversity-friendly agriculture, adding that the ongoing assessment procedure should pay more attention to the environmental risks of glyphosate. .
Eric Gall, deputy director of the organic farming lobby IFOAM, said studies have shown a greater climate impact of organic farming practices, which avoid synthetic pesticides.
âOrganic farming is proof that we can actually produce quality food without synthetic pesticides. You don’t need glyphosate to get a higher level of carbon in soils, âhe concluded.
[Edited by Gerardo Fortuna/Alice Taylor]