In the debate about extending the approval of the controversial weed killer glyphosate, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) sees no unacceptable dangers, but data gaps in several areas. As can be seen from an assessment published on Thursday by the authority based in Parma, Italy, the risks are not so great that further approval has to be prohibited, but there are still open questions.
The aspects that have not been finally clarified include nutritional risks for consumers and the assessment of the risks for aquatic plants, as Efsa announced. Also with regard to species protection, the available information does not allow any clear conclusions. The authority initially only published a notification, the entire analysis is expected to follow at the end of the month.
In addition, no so-called critical problem areas for humans and animals or the environment were identified in the risk assessment. A problem is defined as "critical" if all proposed uses of glyphosate are "affected" and could have adverse effects on human or animal health.
Before sowing or after harvest
According to the information, the proposed uses include applying the active substance before sowing or after harvesting. A total of 23 proposed uses were examined. With a view to the environmental harm of glyphosate, "a high long-term risk for mammals was determined" for 12 of the 23 proposed uses, according to Efsa. According to the agency, for this to be considered a critical issue standing in the way of approval, any harmful effects on human or animal health would have to be determined for all 23 proposed uses. The notification did not explain why the authority uses this definition.
According to Guilhem de Seze, head of the responsible department, the risk assessment is the result of the work of dozens of scientists from EFSA and the EU member states in a three-year process. Nevertheless, there is harsh criticism: The Munich Environmental Institute accuses Efsa of relying one-sidedly on industry-financed studies that certify glyphosate harmlessness. The environmental institute described the conclusions as "questionable". The fact that Efsa did not identify any critical problem areas is incomprehensible.
Bayer welcomes results
Glyphosate manufacturer Bayer, on the other hand, welcomed the Efsa results. "This final scientific conclusion lays the foundation for the successful re-registration of glyphosate in the EU," it said. It is in line with the assessments of leading health authorities.
Glyphosate is permitted throughout the EU until December 15th. Taking the Efsa results into account, the EU Commission will develop a proposal for further approval. The agricultural ministers of the EU countries will then decide whether to allow the farm again.
In contrast to the European Chemicals Agency, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) had come to an assessment that classified glyphosate as probably carcinogenic. Critics of the weed killer also refer to this. "The new assessment of the European Food Safety Authority on glyphosate contradicts the assessment by the World Health Organization and numerous scientific studies," said the Federal Managing Director of the German Environmental Aid, Jürgen Resch.
Glyphosate manufacturer Bayer rejects the suspicion that the weed killer is carcinogenic and refers to various studies - including a statement from the US Environmental Protection Agency EPA. Furthermore, an assessment group on glyphosate within the EU - consisting of France, the Netherlands, Sweden and Hungary - came to the conclusion that classifying the substance as carcinogenic was not justified.
The federal government still wants to ban glyphosate from next year. "We will take glyphosate off the market by the end of 2023," says the coalition agreement between the SPD, Greens and FDP. The Federal Ministry of Agriculture announced that extending the approval of the weed killer was not justified because the effects on biodiversity were not taken into account. Glyphosate "undoubtedly harms biodiversity as part of our natural resources, which are the essential foundation of sustainable and resilient agriculture." At the end of 2022, the EU Commission extended the approval of glyphosate by another year.