An EU vote has failed to resolve a controversy over the use of glyphosate, the world’s biggest-selling weedkiller.
One UN study called the chemical “probably carcinogenic”, but other scientists said it was safe to use.
The current glyphosate licence runs out in the EU on 15 December. Only half of the 28 member states backed a European Commission proposal to renew the licence for five years.
An EU appeal committee will now try to rule on the issue.
The UK was among the 14 states backing the Commission position on glyphosate. Nine voted against – including France and Italy. Germany was among the five who abstained.
Glyphosate was introduced by US agrochemical giant Monsanto in 1974, but its patent expired in 2000, and now the chemical is sold by various manufacturers. The Monsanto weedkiller is called Roundup.
The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) says glyphosate is unlikely to cause cancer in humans.
Critics say widespread use of glyphosate reduces biodiversity, by killing plants that are essential for many insects and other animals.
Some countries and regions have banned glyphosate use in public parks and gardens. Its effect on plants is non-selective, meaning it will kill most of them when applied.
It is usually mixed with other chemicals that help it get into plants, where it blocks a key enzyme pathway. The disruption prevents plants from making certain proteins needed for their growth.