The European Union voted on Monday to extend its authorization for the world’s best-selling herbicide for an abbreviated period of five years in the face of opposition from several member states, including France and Italy.
The herbicide, glyphosate, is the main ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup and in weed killers made by other companies. It has been the subject of an unusually lengthy and contentious review process in Europe amid claims and counterclaims about its risk of causing cancer.
The drawn-out deliberations have frustrated parties on all sides. Agrochemical companies have criticized the review process as driven more by politics than science after it became clear that the weed killer’s use would not be reauthorized for the 15 years typical for such chemicals, or even for 10 years. Environmental advocates have said that the agrochemical industry has tainted scientific reviews in Europe by meddling in them.
With the herbicide’s registration set to expire next month, 18 of the union’s member states voted in favor of extending its use for five years, nine voted against the proposal and one abstained. The vote was weighted by population size.
“Today’s vote shows that when we all want to, we are able to share and accept our collective responsibility in decision making,” said Vytenis Andriukaitis, the European commissioner for health and food safety.
Germany, which had abstained in a previous round of voting on reauthorizing the chemical’s use, appeared to help sway the outcome. Although, Angela Merkel, the chancellor, has been unable to form a coalition government after the country’s recent election, the caretaker government swung its support in favor of the weed killer.
Sven Giegold, a member of the European Parliament representing Germany’s Green Party, posted a message on Twitter saying that the German vote “a slap in the face for the environment and consumers!”
Glyphosate use has soared in the United States over the past couple decades because it has been paired with crops that have been genetically modified to be resistant to it, allowing farmers to use it to kill weeds after crops emerge from the ground. Although Europe has largely eschewed genetically modified crops, glyphosate has also been the best-selling weed killer there as well.
The herbicide’s use became engulfed in controversy after the International Agency for Research on Cancer, part of the World Health Organization, declared it a probable carcinogen in 2015. That spurred a federal case in the United States over claims that it caused cancer, and prompted California to declare it a carcinogen.
The international agency’s finding, however, has been disputed by many other government bodies, including two in Europe, the European Food Safety Authority and the European Chemicals Agency. The latest major study, published this month by researchers at the National Institutes of Health, “observed no associations between glyphosate use and overall cancer risk.”