Glyphosate is one of the world’s most widely used herbicides.

Glyphosate is one of the world’s most widely used herbicides.

Tamina Miller, Creative Commons

European Commission gives controversial weed killer a last-minute reprieve

To the relief of farmers, the controversial herbicide glyphosate will remain on the market in Europe for another 18 months. The widely used weed killer faced a 30 June deadline for reapproval of its safety—without which it could not be sold—but the decision has been stuck in political gridlock. So the European Commission stepped in to extend the safety approval until December 2017. The decision was mentioned by Commissioner for Health and Food Safety Vytenis Andriukaitis during a press conference today and may be officially announced tomorrow, according to a commission source.

The safety of glyphosate has been hotly debated ever since the International Agency for Research on Cancer declared it a “probable human carcinogen” in March 2015. Regulatory agencies had previously declared glyphosate safe when properly used, and the European Food Safety Authority was on track to renew its approval. (The differing opinions caused some confusion, which is clarified here.) Opponents of the herbicide campaigned for the commission not to renew the market license. Glyphosate manufacturers and the farm lobby objected fiercely, and member states could not reach a majority decision about how to proceed.

In his comment, Andriukaitis said that the commission granted the 18-month extension in order to have the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) complete its review of glyphosate. ECHA is responsible for classification and labeling of hazardous chemicals, and during commission deliberations in May, some member states wanted to know ECHA’s opinion on the carcinogenicity of glyphosate before voting on its reapproval.