This autumn will be crunch time for glyphosate, the active ingredient in widely used weed-killers such as Monsanto's Roundup. It's permission for use in the EU expires end of December this year. Germany, responsible for writing an assessment for the renewal, had said we can safely continue to be exposed to glyphosate. But the IARC report classifying glyphosate as “probably carcinogenic” caused a stir. EFSA is now assessing both the German and the IARC reports. But in the mean time, the European Commission has given glyphosate a 6-months extension of their permission until end of June 2016.
The renewal process for glyphosate (every 10 years) was supposed to have taken place 2012 but was postponed as the authorities were 'too busy'. Germany acts as rapporteur to the EU for glyphosate, and had its draft assessment report ready by December 2013, that said glyphosate is not carcinogenic.
But last March, the World Health Organisation (WHO) cancer division the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classified glyphosate as "probably carcinogenic to humans". The IARC report triggered responses from governments and markets around the world. Notably, California's Environmental Protection Agency has a decision pending to put glyphosate (and three other pesticides) on a list to be banned.
Monsanto has always claimed glyphosate and Roundup to be less damaging for health and the environment than many of the other toxic weed-killers. This has been put in strong doubt by many over the years. Monsanto, in the early days of the approval of herbicide tolerant crops (RoundupReady soy), also claimed that herbicide-use would go down. But a recent study by the French INRA shows that overall herbicide use (in kgs/hectare) has gone up since the introduction of GM crops resistant to herbicides like glyphosate. But also, that glyphosate-based herbicides have become by far the most widely used herbicides.1
We should be aware that the EFSA opinion is only about glyphosate, and not about the various formulations of glyphosate-based herbicides such as Roundup, that are mixtures of glyphosate with many other toxic chemicals. A new peer-reviewed study shows that Roundup at extremely low doses within the levels permitted in drinking water in the EU can damage the liver and kidneys of rats.2
EFSA's opinion is expected in November, and then a decision by the European Commission early 2016. However, the European Commission is keeping the latest version of the German draft assessment report secret from the public, while on the other hand sharing it with Monsanto. 3
Bonny, S. (2015). Genetically Modified Herbicide-Tolerant Crops,
Weeds, and Herbicides: Overview and Impact. Environmental