THE EUROPEAN Union (EU) has voted to extend the licence of the herbicide glyphosate for a further five years ending a concerted push to have the product banned.
At face value the final vote, held earlier this week and voted on by member nations passed relatively easily with 18 votes in favour and nine against and one nation, Portugal, abstaining.
However in reality it was far closer than that – the EU works on a population basis and to get the qualified majority required, the nations that voted for the extension needed to account for 65 per cent of the EU population.
With Germany, who was set to abstain, eventually voting yes, the population for was 65.7pc.
A new licence is now set to be drawn up prior to the old one expiring on December 15.
Australian farmers breathed a collective sigh of relief at the news, after weeks of concern regarding the impact an EU ban on glyphosate would have on Australian grain trade to Europe.
“It is good news for agriculture as a whole and good news for Australian farmers,” said AgForce grains section president Wayne Newton.
“The risk was that we would get caught up in the collateral damage of any ban, with our trade restricted because of a change in terms of the acceptance of glyphosate, initially in Europe and then potentially globally due to a flow on effect,” Mr Newton said.
“It is also a win for common sense and a win for science as the data shows the product is safe.”
However, the spotlight will remain on glyphosate, with some EU nations that voted against the relicensing declaring they would look to ban the weedkiller.
Emmanuel Macron, president of agricultural powerhouse France publicly said he still planned to ban the herbicide within three years, providing an alternative is found.
Victorian farmer Chris Kelly, who farms in the state’s north-west at Woomelang, said he felt there would be further pressure on glyphosate in the future.
“I don’t think we can sit back and just think this is the end of the matter,” he said.
Mr Kelly said Australian farmers needed to look at popular agronomic techniques, such as late season applications of glyphosate to desiccate crops prior to harvest.
“It works agronomically but if further pressure comes on maximum residue levels (MRLs) in delivered grain then it will be crop-topping that is under the pump.
“It is important we look to ensure we have alternatives as this is not a topic that is going to go away.”
The controversy around glyphosate surrounds potential cancer risks.
Last year, one World Health Organisation body, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), found the herbicide was a ‘probable’ carcinogenic, however later WHO later came out and said the product was of no risk to humans.
The official EU assessor, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) also has the position that glyphosate is unlikely to cause cancer in humans.
Charles Sturt University (CSU) emeritus professor Jim Pratley from the Graham Centre for Agricultural Innovation said the case against glyphosate relied on inaccurate data.
“This sorry episode began with a report by the International Agency for Research on Cancer which made the statement that glyphosate was “probably carcinogenic”,” Prof Pratley said.
“This extraordinary comment was based on selective data and there are no reports that such is the case, however it was taken up as an issue by activists and the availability of glyphosate has been threatened.”
Prof Pratley said, like all chemicals, glyphosate needed to be used according to the label instructions.
He poured cold water on the continued French attempt to ban the product.
“It is interesting Mr Macron has indicated that glyphosate should be banned in France “as soon as alternatives are found and within three years at the latest”,” he said.
“There are no alternatives Mr President and won’t be within three years, all companies have been searching for another Roundup and thus far have turned up nothing - it is a once-in-a-generation herbicide.”