EUROPE'S chemical watchdogs have given key herbicide glyphosate a clean bill of health, firmly quashing claims that it is carcinogenic.

To the delight of both farmers and the crop protection industry, the European Chemicals Agency this week concluded that the scientific evidence on glyphosate "did not meet the criteria to classify glyphosate as a carcinogen, as a mutagen or as toxic for reproduction".

NFU Scotland welcomed the result, noting that the ECHA’s opinion builds upon the views of other regulatory bodies around the world, including the World Health Organisation, the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the UN and the European Food Safety Authority, and clearly gave European regulators a mandate to allow the product to be re-authorised for a further 15-year period.

NFUS president Andrew McCornick said: “Today, a major step has been taken towards the re-approval of the herbicide glyphosate. This scientific opinion – along with those already given – must be given precedence when the EU commission and member states decide on the re-authorisation of glyphosate later this year.

“Glyphosate is a key tool for farmers, allowing them to control weeds and use environmentally friendly techniques, such as minimum tillage, which reduce soil erosion and greenhouse gas emissions," said Mr McCornick. "Glyphosate is also used to dry ripening crops, thereby reducing the industry’s reliance on fossil fuels to do so.

“It remains vital that the decision-makers in Europe are under no illusion about the importance of glyphosate to Scottish farmers and growers. As we build towards a decision on reauthorisation, NFUS encourages any farmer who uses this product, and wishes to continue to do so, to communicate directly with their MEP underlining the importance of this product to their farming operation."

Crop Protection Association chief executive Sarah Mukherjee commented: “Glyphosate is, and always has been safe. This ruling is another reminder this debate has never really been about safety, it has been hijacked and politicised to force a wider debate on modern agriculture. It’s right that we’re having that debate, but it’s wrong to use health scares to get there.

"Over 40 years of robust scientific evidence, supported by one of the most extensive human health, crop residue and environmental databases ever compiled on any pesticide shows no risk to safety – clearly the Commission should reauthorise glyphosate for the standard 15 year period."