The European Union’s decision will allow importers to continue to use glyphosate with some possible restrictions.
⋅ BY AMANDA HUBER ⋅
The war on pesticides is ongoing, but a significant decision made in the European Union will likely help keep glyphosate in use. The decision comes after EU members failed to reach a majority for or against the renewal of the approval in two separate votes.
Glyphosate is the active ingredient in Roundup and generic herbicide formulations. Approval of glyphosate in the EU was set to expire Dec. 15. Now, the product will likely be renewed for another 10 years with the restriction that it not be used as a desiccant to dry crops before harvest and some possible measures to protect non-target species. Individual member states within the 27-country EU can make their own restrictions.
Decisions Have Unknown ‘Ripple’ Effects
Although glyphosate is not a product used directly in peanuts, the decision does affect use in rotation crops and in pesticide use overall.
University of Georgia Extension weed scientist Eric Prostko says the EU’s position is good news for those in the United States who work in the pesticide arena and who use and rely on this pesticide. “If glyphosate had been banned in the EU, there is always a ripple effect in the United States, but you never know what the effect might be across the world for a particular compound that is good and is used so often.”
An example of this “ripple effect” happened in 2016 when peanut growers were notified by their buying points not to use fungicides containing propiconazole, the active ingredient in 87 products, including Tilt, Artisan and Stratego. For this chemical, the EU decided not to recognize the maximum residue level for propiconazole in various crops. Fixing the label to accommodate the EU would have cost millions of dollars, which manufacturers chose not to do.
“You don’t want to lose a market, so you have to do what your buyer wants,” Prostko says. “If you look at the numbers, in 2022, 12% of in-shell exports went to the EU; 17% of raw-shelled exports went to the EU. In total value, that’s about $72 million, so that’s not a small percentage of exports,” he says.
The Label Is Your Best Protection
Although the EU’s no decision “decision” may seem like a cop-out of sorts, Prostko says it was based on years of work.
“A massive amount of data was looked at by the European Food Safety Authority and the European Chemicals Agency, some 16,000 published studies, and collectively they came up with the decision that basically says, ‘The classification labeling confirms that glyphosate is not to be classified as a carcinogen, nor mutagen, nor toxic for reproduction.’
“It will bear watching regarding the potential restrictions, but the moral of the story is that if we read and follow label restrictions, that is our best protection from having problems with residues,” Prostko says. “It is important for all of us in the industry who work with pesticides to not take those for granted.
“There’s a reason why we have pre-harvest intervals on labels. Sometimes it’s to protect the crop from injury and other times it is to prevent contamination or unacceptable pesticide residues,” he says. “Follow the label. It took 11 years and $300 million to get there, so don’t take it lightly.”
Researchers Look For Alternatives
University of Georgia Extension peanut specialist Scott Monfort says part of what researchers do is look at alternatives to products that have the potential to be banned or that may experience shortages. “Some of these products we have an idea that restrictions are coming, and we begin looking at alternatives.”
Prostko says because there are more fungicides in the pipeline, it is possible to find those alternatives. “For herbicides, there are not as many in the pipeline,” he says.
Although this round was in favor of glyphosate, the war continues. In the United States, despite large settlements from courts with no mandate to follow science, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency concluded in 2020 that glyphosate posed no risks to human health. In response to a court order, the EPA is redoing that assessment, and a decision is expected in 2026. PG