'Progress depends on change - the man who cannot change his mind cannot change anything'

OVER the renewal of the licence for glyphosate, the world's most widely used herbicide, the EU has confirmed it cannot make decisions based on rational science. In sporting terms this is a case of science, nil, pandering to the Green lobby five – or indeed any number between that and infinity.

Expecting different from the EU would be a triumph for hope over expectation.

This is yet another sad tale of member states ignoring science to play politics. In the scheme of things, it did not affect the outcome. Through the approval process for the relicensing member states failed to deliver a qualified majority in the so-called scientific committee tasked with making a decision.

The same happened in an appeal committee, where member states including France and Germany, used abstentions to duck responsibility and again deny the qualified majority needed for approval. This is a misuse of a voting system put in place to protect smaller member states, but it is the bigger green-leaning countries that use it to frustrate scientific decisions.

Like a protest at a school debating society, it did not really matter. The grown ups, in the shape of the European Commission, took the decision to re-license glyphosate for a full ten years, albeit with some new conditions on use.

It was forced into this position despite having allowed an extra year for the science to be looked at again by the European Food Safety Authority and others. They all delivered the same decision that the product was safe and should be re-licensed. While the approval is for ten years a condition is that the application to renew it must begin in seven years, presumably to allow time for member states to again play games with science to placate a green lobby that adopts a pick and mix approach to science and which believes mavericks on the internet should hold more sway than global experts.

This goes beyond a storm in a teacup over a product that in the event continues to be available in Europe. It makes a mockery of EU claims about a digital future and embracing technology to deliver eurozone green growth. It also denies farmers the confidence they need to believe the EU reduces agrochemical use by encouraging alternatives.

This becomes a numbers game if the science around whether a product is safe and beneficial for the environment is frustrated by voting tactics to please a green lobby, whose political influence is not now as great as many believe it to be. George Bernard Shaw said all progress depends on change and that the man who cannot change his mind cannot change anything.

That sums up the opposition some member states display towards science and it is wrong that they can manipulate a voting system well past its sell by date to prevent change.

This is not a recent problem in the EU. It came into existence with opposition in the 1980s to hormone growth promoters in beef production; it was given a boost by BSE and the scepticism it brought. It matured with opposition to GM science, allowing any debate around that subject to be blocked. It is now part of the EU mindset.

With each bad decision that ignores rational debate and science the position gets worse – and with each bad decision it becomes politically more difficult to stand up to the minority that want to block progress. We laugh now at the Luddites who sought to block the Industrial Revolution; we laugh at those who demanded early motor vehicles were accompanied by someone to warn of their presence.

This is no different, but it is hard to see the day when Europe will laugh at this as a quaint part of history around ignoring facts and the rest of the world.

The same is now beginning to happen with what should have been an easy decision to approve the well regulated use of gene editing, or in euro-speak novel genomic technology. This is about accelerating conventional breeding techniques, but it is now becoming locked up in the wider debate about the rights of member states and inevitable pressure from a green lobby that wants to thwart scientific progress.

Despite Brexit, the UK has finally, at a massive cost, rejoined the EU Horizon programme. This appeared a good idea, but decisions like glyphosate raise questions about why you would join a science club that selectively ignores science.