German Political Limbo Settles EU Dispute Over Monsanto Weedkiller -- 2nd Update

By Valentina Pop Features Dow Jones Newswires

A yearslong dispute among European Union nations, American corporations and environmental groups over a controversial weedkiller was settled Monday in a surprise move by Germany.

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Representatives from a majority of the EU's 28 nations approved a five-year license renewal of glyphosate, the world's most widely used herbicide, invented and marketed by Monsanto Co. under the Roundup brand.

The unexpected move unblocked a two-year deadlock after the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer concluded that the substance has the potential to cause cancer in humans.

EU's chemicals agency in March dismissed those claims, prompting the European Commission, the bloc's executive branch, to propose a five-year renewal of glyphosate sales in the bloc.

Eighteen countries voted in favor of the renewal, including Spain and the U.K. Nine nations including France voted against it and Portugal abstained.

The license extension was facilitated by Germany's postelection limbo. Outgoing environment minister Barbara Hendricks accused farm minister Christian Schmidt of going behind her back, after she received confirmation from the German representative in Brussels that he will abstain from the vote.

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The decision required not just a majority of the countries voting, but also of governments representing a majority of the EU's 500 million citizens. With an abstention, Germany, as the bloc's most-populous nation, would have blocked the decision.

"You cannot act this way when you are trying to build trust among dialogue partners," said Ms. Hendricks, who is a Social Democrat. Her party is currently in coalition talks with Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Mr. Schmidt defended his stance, telling the Rheinische Post daily that he obtained concessions in regards to animal health and biodiversity. He said that the commission would have approved the five-year extension anyway, even if the countries opposed.

"Today's vote shows that when we all want to, we are able to share and accept our collective responsibility in decision making," said EU health commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitis.

The commission is set to renew the 5-year license before Dec. 15, when the current license expires.

Environmental groups and Green politicians reacted angrily to the news.

In the European Parliament, British Green lawmaker Molly Scott Cato described the Monday vote as a "toxic decision" ignoring 1.5 million EU citizens who signed a petition against glyphosate.

"Germany bowed to (...) corporate pressure, ignoring their own citizens to give the chemical industry an early Christmas present," said Luis Morago, campaign director with Avaaz, a U.S.-based human rights network.

Industry lobby group Glyphosate Task Force said in a statement it was "profoundly disappointed" at the decision to extend only by five years the chemical's license. "The GTF considers this decision to be discriminatory against glyphosate, not related to any scientific assessment and mainly influenced by public perception and driven by politics," it said.

Write to Valentina Pop at valentina.pop@wsj.com

BRUSSELS -- A yearslong dispute among European Union nations, American corporations and environmental groups over a controversial weedkiller was settled Monday in a surprise move by Germany.

Representatives from a majority of the EU's 28 nations approved a five-year license renewal of glyphosate, the world's most widely used herbicide, invented and marketed by Monsanto Co. under the Roundup brand.

The unexpected move unblocked a two-year deadlock after the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer concluded that the substance has the potential to cause cancer in humans.

EU's chemicals agency in March dismissed those claims, prompting the European Commission, the bloc's executive branch, to propose a five-year renewal of glyphosate sales in the bloc.

Eighteen countries voted in favor of the renewal, including Spain and the U.K. Nine nations including France voted against it and Portugal abstained.

The license extension was facilitated by Germany's postelection limbo. Outgoing environment minister Barbara Hendricks accused farm minister Christian Schmidt of going behind her back, after she received confirmation from the German representative in Brussels that he will abstain from the vote.

The decision required not just a majority of the countries voting, but also of governments representing a majority of the EU's 500 million citizens. With an abstention, Germany, as the bloc's most-populous nation, would have blocked the decision.

"You cannot act this way when you are trying to build trust among dialogue partners," said Ms. Hendricks, who is a Social Democrat. Her party is currently in coalition talks with Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Mr. Schmidt defended his stance, telling the Rheinische Post daily that he obtained concessions in regards to animal health and biodiversity. He said that the commission would have approved the five-year extension anyway, even if the countries opposed.

"Today's vote shows that when we all want to, we are able to share and accept our collective responsibility in decision making," said EU health commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitis.

The commission is set to renew the 5-year license before Dec. 15, when the current license expires.

Environmental groups and Green politicians reacted angrily to the news.

In the European Parliament, British Green lawmaker Molly Scott Cato described the Monday vote as a "toxic decision" ignoring 1.5 million EU citizens who signed a petition against glyphosate.

"Germany bowed to (...) corporate pressure, ignoring their own citizens to give the chemical industry an early Christmas present," said Luis Morago, campaign director with Avaaz, a U.S.-based human rights network.

Industry lobby group Glyphosate Task Force said in a statement it was "profoundly disappointed" at the decision to extend the chemical's license by only five years, and believes it "should have been re-approved for 15 years in line with the scientific assessment and EU regulatory practice."

The group "considers this decision to be discriminatory against glyphosate, not related to any scientific assessment and mainly influenced by public perception and driven by politics."

Write to Valentina Pop at valentina.pop@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

November 27, 2017 17:55 ET (22:55 GMT)