The prospect of a ban on the use of glyphosate in the EU looms larger. It is currently authorised for use only until December 2017, there having been insufficient support among member states earlier in the year for the EU Commission's proposal that it be re-authorized for 15 years.
Questions about the safety of glyphosate were raised last year after the International Agency for Research issued a report that said it was `probably' carcinogenic to humans. A review by the European Food Standards Agency concluded that it was `unlikely' to be.
The European Parliament has been putting its oar in. It opposed the Commission's original proposal. Now one of the MEPs responsible for seeing to its re-authorisation, Merja Kyllonen, a left wing MEP from Finland, has suggested that the EU's `precautionary principle' should be invoked and glyphosate might not be re-authorised at all. She says: `As long as there is insufficient evidence demonstrating glyphosate is definitely non-carcinogenic if that ever turns out to be the case the precautionary principle must be applied, and glyphosate must be banned until we have solid proof it does not pose a risk to our health or the environment'.
The US Environmental Protection Agency and the UN Food and Agriculture/ World Health Organisation Joint Committee on Pesticide Residues have declared glyphosate to be safe. Their conclusions, and those of the European Food Standards Agency, will not be enough to satisfy MEPs' demands for evidence that it is `definitely' non-carcinogenic. The further review now being conducted by the EU Agency for Chemical Products at the behest of the Commission is unlikely to reach a more positive conclusion than the previous reviews. It is unrealistic to expect a scientific review to rule out a risk entirely, so the danger of glyphosate being banned within the EU is very real.
Siren voices have been heard, claiming that an EU ban would not affect UK farmers because EU Regulations will no longer apply when the UK leaves the Union. However given the uncertainty about when it will leave, it is entirely possible that a ban could come into effect before it leaves, in which case the question then would be whether the UK, after adopting EU legislation, should immediately repeal a ban on glyphosate. If it did, farmers might still find that they could not export produce to the EU that had been treated with glyphosate.
To add to the potential pesticide problems, the Agriculture Commissioner has not listened to concerns about a proposed ban on the use of chemicals in Ecological Focus Areas, part of his `simplification' of the greening rules. At least its impact will be delayed, because the changes have been postponed until 2018.
Finally a piece of better news from the EU thanks to the fall in the value of the pound, the Basic Payments will be the highest for 5 years. The conversion rate of 1 = 85.228p is 16.5% better than last year.