Everything you need to know about glyphosate

Glyphosate is an active substance used for the production of pesticides, which has been authorised in the EU since 2002 and EU Member States are currently in talks about re-authorising glyphosate in the EU.

It is the most widely used herbicide worldwide and in the EU and glyphosate-based pesticides are used mainly to combat weeds that compete with cultivated crops.

The European Commission has compiled the following fact sheet on glyphosate:

Does the EU authorise the placing on the market of pesticides?

No, that’s the role of the Member States, but active substances in the pesticides have to be approved at EU level.

Once an active substance has been approved or renewed at EU level, the safety evaluation of every pesticide (also referred to as Plant Protection Products PPPs) formulation is done at a later stage by individual Member States before they grant, refuse or restrict – the use of pesticides formulations at national level.

In their authorisation decision, Member States can therefore define the conditions for use of the product, for instance; restricted to certain crops; to professional use; for use in glass houses only.

An active substance such as glyphosate undergoes an intensive evaluation and peer-review by Member States and the European Food Safety Authority, before a decision can be made on approval.

Before an active substance can be used within a product in the EU, it must be approved at EU level.

Before any pesticide can be placed on the market or used, it must be authorised in the Member State(s) concerned.

Regulation (EC) No 1107/2009 lays down the rules and procedures for authorisation of Plant Protection Products.

What has been so far the procedure for a possible renewal of glyphosate?

The EU has one of the strictest systems in the world for the assessment of pesticides. Hundreds of other active substances, like glyphosate, have gone through or are going through a stringent scientific assessment process.

The EU approval of an active substance is only granted for a limited period of time (up to 15 years) and must be renewed regularly.

As regards glyphosate, it had been under evaluation, since 2012, for a possible renewal of the approval, following the procedures laid down in EU legislation on plant protection products (PPPs).

The EU approval of an active substance means that the Member States can authorise plant protection products on their territory, but they are not obliged to do that. Nonetheless, if there is no EU approval, Member States have no choice.

Timeline
  • May 2012: Assessment of the active substance by the Rapporteur Member State, in this case Germany. Germany’s national authority receives dossier for possible renewal of the approval of the active substance glyphosate.
  • December 2013: Germany sends report to the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) so that the peer review by EFSA and all Member States can start (January 2014). It includes a public consultation (March 2014); Additional information requested from applicants (August 2014).
  • February – March 2015: Nationalexperts’ meetings including risk assessors from all 28 Member States’ organized by EFSA.
  • March 2015: Publication of a report by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) on glyphosate – Commission asks EFSA to include it in its peer review.
  • September 2015: A new experts’ consultation specifically dedicated to carcinogenicity organised by EFSA.
  • October 2015: Glyphosate approval provisionally extended until June 2016, pending finalization of the EU peer review.
  • November 2015: Publication of EFSA’s conclusion.
  • May 2015: The Joint UN Food and Agriculture Organisation/ World Health Organisation Meeting on Pesticide Residues (JMPR) publish their risk assessment on glyphosate.
  • June 2016: End of the provisional extension at EU level of the active substance glyphosate.

In all, the EU’s assessment of glyphosate has taken three years, involving public sector scientific experts from EU’s agencies (EFSA and ECHA) and national authorities in all 28 Member States.

Some 27 Member States agree with EFSA’s conclusion on carcinogenicity (Sweden was in favour of another classification).

Will there be additional scientific work on glyphosate?

Yes. Primarily, EFSA continues its on-going review of the existing Maximum Residue Levels (MRLs) for glyphosate.

A Maximum Residue Level is the highest level of pesticide residue that is legally tolerated in, or on food or feed, when pesticides are applied correctly.

Moreover, at EU level, an evaluation of glyphosate by the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA), which is responsible for managing the harmonised classification process for chemical substances, was recently initiated.

Finally, the Commission can review the approval at any time – in case relevant scientific elements are published.

What will be the European Chemicals Agency work on glyphosate?

The European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) is responsible for managing the harmonised classification (CLH) process for hazardous chemical substances.

Active substances in Plant Protection Products (PPPs) are normally subject to harmonised classification and labelling.

The CLH process for an active substance is triggered when a proposal for harmonised classification of that chemical substance is submitted by a Member State competent authority to the Agency.

Thereof, and as part of the procedure for a possible renewal of glyphosate approval under the PPP legislation, a harmonised classification and labelling proposal has been prepared by the German national competent authority (BAuA), since the country is the Rapporteur Member State for glyphosate.

spraying farmers

Why is the ECHA opinion important?

ECHA is the competent EU agency for the assessment of dossiers for the classification of chemical substances. Moreover, the procedure for harmonised classification of glyphosate was already initiated.

The discussions in the Standing Committee on Plants, Animals, Food and Feed on May 18 and 19, 2016 showed that in the specific situation of glyphosate a number of Member States, in their role as risk managers, considered that it was appropriate to have an opinion of the Committee for Risk Assessment of ECHA on the harmonised classification as regards carcinogenicity of glyphosate, before taking a decision.

Such an opinion is relevant for the approval based on the criteria set out in EU Regulation (EC No 1107/2009).

What is the Commission proposing to Member States?

The Commission called for the Standing Committee to meet tomorrow, June 6, to discuss with the Member States the extension of the current approval of glyphosate for a limited period until the ECHA has concluded its review.

The Commission is also preparing a second decision, reviewing the conditions of use of glyphosate that will contain three clear recommendations to Member States:

1.Ban a co-formulant called PAO-tallowamine from glyphosate based products.

2.Minimise the use of the substance in public parks, public playgrounds and gardens.

3.Minimise the pre-harvest use of glyphosate.

The Commission will make these recommendations to promote a sustainable use of pesticides and herbicides, although the ultimate responsibility to introduce such type of measures, concerning the use of the final products, belongs to Member States.

Are additional measures envisaged by the Commission?

Yes. As mentioned above, the Commission will present to Member States a series of recommendations on the use of glyphosate in public parks and playgrounds, as well as the pre-harvesting use of this substance, as part of its overall policy on sustainable use of pesticides.

It must be noted that it is primarily the responsibility of Member States to decide upon and enforce such measures.