(CN) – Responding to a citizen petition to ban the key ingredient in the herbicide Roundup, the European Commission said Tuesday it finds no credible link between the chemical and health problems but would instead improve transparency in the pesticide-approval process.
In October, the commission said the European Citizens’ Initiative “Ban glyphosate and protect people and the environment from toxic pesticides” had collected well over the necessary 1 million signatures to be considered for legislative action by the commission. The regulatory body then invited the petition organizers to make their case to EU lawmakers and other interested parties.
The commission had three paths: propose legislation to ban glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup and similar products; act in some other way to achieve the initiative’s goals; or do nothing.
In choosing a hybrid of acting in some other way and doing nothing, the commission rejected the petition’s main premise that glyphosate has been scientifically linked to cancer in humans. Instead, the commission said it will renew the clearance of the chemical for five more years.
“Following a thorough scientific assessment of all available data on glyphosate concluding that there is no link between glyphosate and cancer in humans, and a positive vote by member states’ representatives on 27 November 2017, the commission today adopted a renewal of the approval of glyphosate for five years,” the commission said in a statement.
“[Commission president Jean-Claude] Juncker put this issue on the agenda on several occasions, to ensure full political ownership by the commission. Based on these political discussions, and taking account of the position of the European Parliament, the commission decided to reduce the length of the proposed renewal from the standard 15 to 5 years, which also ensured the widest possible support from member states.”
The commission said it agreed with petition organizers that the scientific evaluation for pesticides, which regulators use to decide on approvals and renewals, should be as transparent as possible to ensure the public’s trust in the system. The commission noted regulators already rely on scientific studies commissioned by them and not the pesticide industry, and said it would propose legislation in 2018 to make the studies available to the public.
As for the petition’s call to set EU-wide mandatory reduction targets for pesticide use “with a view to achieving a pesticide-free future,” the commission said EU policy is already pointed in that direction and promised to make sure member states are complying with their obligations under the EU’s “sustainable use directive.”
Although the commission side-stepped much of what the petition’s organizers wanted, commission first vice president Frans Timmermans said the European Citizens’ Initiative process remains a vital democratic tool.
“It's great that well over a million EU citizens have invested their time to engage directly on an issue that matters. The commission has listened and will now act. We need more transparency about how decisions are made in this area,” Timmermans said in a statement. I am a strong supporter of the right of citizens to engage in this manner and am pressing the parliament and council to make speedy progress on our proposals to make it easier for European Citizens' Initiatives to be successful in the future."
Developed by Monsanto in the 1970s, glyphosate is one of the most popular broad-spectrum weed killers in the world.
This year, the state of California officially listed the chemical as a carcinogen under its Proposition 65 guidelines. Monsanto is fighting the listing in a state appeals court.
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