The controversial herbicide glyphosate can remain on the market in the European Union for 10 years with new restrictions, the European Commission announced Nov. 16. The decision comes after EU member states failed to reach a majority for or against the commission’s proposed renewal of the approval in two separate votes.
Glyphosate is the active ingredient in Bayer’s Roundup, formerly made by Monsanto, and in many generic herbicide formulations. Approval of glyphosate in the EU was set to expire Dec. 15. The commission now plans to move ahead with renewing the herbicide for 10 years, subject to new conditions, including a ban on use of the chemical to dry crops before harvest and measures to protect nontarget species.
EU member states still have the option to ban glyphosate in their jurisdictions, “if they consider this necessary based on the outcome of risk assessments, particularly factoring in the need to protect biodiversity,” the commission says.
EU countries have been at a stalemate over the safety of glyphosate since 2015, when the International Agency for Research on Cancer classified it as “probably carcinogenic to humans.” Both EU and US regulators dispute that classification.
The European Chemicals Agency concluded in 2022 that “classifying glyphosate as a carcinogen is not justified.” The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) followed up in July 2023, saying glyphosate “did not meet the scientific criteria to be classified as a carcinogenic, mutagenic or reprotoxic substance.”
The US Environmental Protection Agency concluded in 2020 that glyphosate poses no risks to human health. But in response to a court order, the EPA is redoing that assessment. The agency expects to complete the work by 2026.
Environmental groups, which have been pushing for a ban on glyphosate for years, are disappointed in the commission’s decision. “There is alarming evidence highlighting the cancer risks associated with glyphosate, along with the myriad other reported adverse effects,” Angeliki Lyssimachou, head of science and policy at Pesticide Action Network (PAN) Europe, says in a statement.
PAN Europe points to several data gaps that it says EFSA identified in its assessment. The group also claims that EFSA’s approach puts more weight on studies commissioned by the chemical industry than on independent science.