Foodlaw-Reading

Dr David Jukes, The University of Reading, UK

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Food Law News - EU - 2017

Commission Press release Codex and Sustainable Development Goals

With the Communication adopted today, the Commission replies to the European Citizens' Initiative (ECI) "Ban glyphosate and protect people and the environment from toxic pesticides" and commits to presenting a legislative proposal in 2018, to further increase the transparency and quality of studies used in the scientific assessment of substances.

In responding to the European Citizens' Initiative, the European Commission addresses the concerns of EU citizens and announces measures to make the process to authorise, restrict or ban the use of pesticides more transparent in the future.

Today's Communication sets out the way forward:

In addition, and 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[1], the Commission today adopted a renewal of the approval of glyphosate for 5 years. While 15 years is the period that the Commission usually proposes for authorisations when all approval criteria are met, glyphosate is no routine case. This issue has been discussed several times by the Commission that has been working during the last months towards a decision which gathers the broadest possible support by Member States, while ensuring a high level of protection of human health and the environment in line with EU legislation. The Commission's final proposal for a 5 year renewal took also into account the latest non-binding Resolutions adopted by the European Parliament.

First Vice-President Frans Timmermans said: "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. Next spring the Commission will also deliver proposals on drinking water we promised in response to another successful Initiative. In sum, 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."

Vytenis Andriukaitis, Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, said: "From the beginning of my mandate I have been a strong supporter of increased transparency in decision-making as well as in the terms of access to the scientific studies underlying the approval of active substances. I will put forward a proposal to address these issues by spring 2018. However it is equally important that Member States assume their responsibility when it comes to the authorisation of pesticides in their own markets. They must also ensure that pesticides are used sustainably and in full compliance with label requirements. Transparency, independence, and sustainable use of pesticides are our objectives. They should underpin our work and this is where my focus will be".

The Commission's reply to the three requests of the ECI:

1. “Ban glyphosate-based herbicides, exposure to which has been linked to cancer in humans, and has led to ecosystems degradation”:

Member States are responsible for the authorisation, use and/or ban of glyphosate-based products on their territories. In the EU, only substances for which there is objective evidence of safe use are approved. 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 5 years.President Juncker put this issue on the College 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 years to 5 years, which also ensured the widest possible support from Member States.

2. “Ensure that the scientific evaluation of pesticides for EU regulatory approval is based only on published studies, which are commissioned by competent public authorities instead of the pesticide industry”:

The Commission fully agrees that transparency in scientific assessments and decision-making is vital to ensuring trust in the food safety regulatory system. Maintaining and improving a strong, transparent and independent scientific assessment is crucial. The Commission will put forward a legislative proposal in 2018 covering these and other relevant aspects such as the governance of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA),by spring 2018. The Commission will propose to change the current rules to make sure that scientific studies are publicly available. Citizens must be able to understand how such far-reaching decisions to authorise or ban certain substances are taken. Political responsibility and greater transparency are two sides of the same coin.  

3. “Set EU-wide mandatory reduction targets for pesticide use, with a view to achieving a pesticide-free future”:

EU policy is already directed towards reducing dependency on pesticides and achieving a pesticide-free future as requested by the European Citizens' Initiative. The Commission will strive to ensure that Member States comply with their obligations under the Sustainable Use Directive and reduce dependency on pesticides. Member States have also been invited to establish more precise and measureable targets in their National Action Plans. In addition, in order to monitor trends in risk reduction from pesticide use at EU level, the Commission will establish harmonised risk indicators on top of the existing national risk indicators. These would enable the Commission to determine the effectiveness of measures when assessing future policy options. The Commission will re-evaluate the situation on the basis of the resulting data and assess the need for EU-wide mandatory targets for pesticides.

Next steps:

Background:

The procedure for the renewal of the approval of the active substance glyphosate generated a great deal of interest and a broader debate on the authorisation and use of pesticides in the EU. On 27 November 2017, Member States voted in favour of the Commission's proposal for a 5 year renewal of the approval.

On the request of President Juncker, the issue has been discussed several times by the College of Commissioners. The Commission has been working towards a decision which gathers the broadest possible support by Member States, while ensuring a high level of protection of human health and the environment in line with EU legislation. It followed a comprehensive and transparent scientific process, where more than 6.000 pages of scientific assessment were made public.

While 15 years is the period that the Commission usually proposes for authorisations when all approval criteria are met, glyphosate is no routine case. Other legitimate factors were taken into consideration when setting the appropriate period for renewal, such as the fact that additional information on the substance is being published at a high rate. Moreover, the Commission's final proposal for a 5 year renewal took into account the latest non-binding Resolutions adopted by the European Parliament. The decision formally adopted today, also carefully considered the European Citizens' Initiative "Ban glyphosate and protect people and the environment from toxic pesticides".

Already at the beginning of his mandate, President Juncker announced that governing by abstention is not an option and proposed changing the so-called comitology rules in order to enhance transparency about the positions taken by Member States and ensure more political accountability in the decision making process for our citizens.

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