Banning glyphosate: the debate heats up

The case for and against retaining the chemical pesticide in sustainable agriculture.

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At this week’s town council environment committee meeting, the use of pesticides was debated:

Sustainability; Glyphosate update from EDDC

Councillor Denise Bickley agreed that the action from the last meeting that a list of local land owners should be compiled to try engage with them to encourage a more sensitive hedgerow management style where possible, should be done by letter and that a letter would also be drawn up from the Working Group to Simon Jupp, MP regarding this and reducing the use of chemicals.

RESOLVED: that a letter encouraging the use of alternatives to Glyphosate and other checmicals where possible be drafted and sent from the Working Group to Simon Jupp MP.

Minutes of a Meeting of Sidmouth Town Council’s Environment Working Group held on Monday 12 July 2021

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This is part of the wider debate other local authorities are having:

Phasing out glyphosate pesticides used by councils – Vision Group for Sidmouth

Including trials for other approaches – for example, from Reading a fortnight ago:

Reading Council to trial weed killer alternatives amid health concerns | Reading Chronicle

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Earlier this year, the government published its Draft National Action Plan on the Sustainable Use of Pesticides – which it put out to consultation:

Pesticides: “banning is not always best” – Vision Group for Sidmouth

The view so far is not very positive from “the UK’s No 1 source of intelligence for environmental professionals”:

It is now nearly 60 years since the publication of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring galvanised the environmental movement – first in the US and then the UK – yet the use of pesticides is still a subject of intense debate. Will the government’s revised action plan for the sustainable use of pesticides be enough to quell concerns over their impact?

‘A strange blight’: Does the government’s sustainable pesticides plan go far enough?

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The debate is indeed intense.

The Farmers’ Weekly last month looked to EU policies:

Four EU members states tasked with evaluating glyphosate over the renewal of its licence have concluded that the weedkiller does not pose risks for human health. The designated member states for the renewal of glyphosate – France, Hungary, the Netherlands, and Sweden – are known as the Assessment Group on Glyphosate (AGG). Overall, they conclude that glyphosate “meets the approval criteria for human health” and re-approval “as an active substance to be used in plant protection products”.

Glyphosate takes first step towards EU licence renewal – Farmers Weekly

As reported by the Chemical & Engineering News:

Glyphosate is not carcinogenic, EU report confirms

Although one of the designated member states seems unsure, as reported last week:

France Offering Financial Aid to Growers to Stop Using Glyphosate – CropLife

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On the other hand, a report out at the same time questions the veracity of the evidence, as carried by the Guardian:

A new analysis of more than 50 previously secret, corporate-backed scientific studies is raising troubling questions about a history of regulatory reliance on such research in assessing the safety of the widely used weedkilling chemical known as glyphosate, the key ingredient in the popular Roundup herbicide.

In a 187-page report released on Friday, researchers from the Institute of Cancer Research at the Medical University of Vienna in Austria said a thorough review of 53 safety studies submitted to regulators by large chemical companies showed that most do not comply with modern international standards for scientific rigor, and lack the types of tests most able to detect cancer risks.

“The quality of these studies, not of all, but of many of these studies is very poor. The health authorities … accepted some of these very poor studies as informative and acceptable, which is not justified from a scientific point of view,” Siegfried Knasmueller, the lead author of the analysis told the Guardian.

Glyphosate is the most widely used herbicide in the world, and is particularly popular with farmers growing common food crops. But there is heated debate in many countries about whether or not glyphosate herbicides should continue to be used due to concerns they may cause cancer…

Corporate studies asserting herbicide safety show many flaws, new analysis finds | Monsanto | The Guardian

New analysis of glyphosate industry studies finds them outdated, flawed – U.S. Right to Know

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The international debate is indeed heated, as these reports from just the last few days show:

#glyphosate – Twitter Search / Twitter

Glyphosate sparring continues as diverging reports released | North Queensland Register | Queensland

Farmer fury over proposed blanket glyphosate ban | Queensland Country Life | Queensland

Precautionary Principle And Glyphosate: Why Risk It? | Scoop News

Beware Glyphosate Damages the Gut Microbiome, Mitochondria, and More – EIN Presswire

Viewpoint: How does the scientifically bankrupt claim glyphosate poses harm to humans remain popular? By dishonest ‘reporting,’ including from scientists who put ideology over evidence | Genetic Literacy Project

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To conclude, a couple of more measured pieces.

Firstly, from Dr David George, Reader in Precision Agronomy at Newcastle University:

Here he examines the case for retaining glyphosate in sustainable agriculture

First synthesized in 1950 and originally patented as a chelator in the Sixties, glyphosate has been with us for longer than 85% of the UK population. It was brought to market as a broad-spectrum pre-emergence herbicide in 1974 by Monsanto under the familiar trade name of Roundup™, with Roundup Ready™ seed developed through the 1990s, expanding its post-emergence use in areas where GM crops are grown. Glyphosate now dominates the worldwide herbicide market, with close to 10 billion kg having been applied across the globe (Benbrook 2016).

Based on its non-target toxicity profile, glyphosate can be considered as being relatively safe… For the most part, however, exposure to glyphosate ‘in vivo’ would be prolonged, not acute, though here too glyphosate stacks up favourably based on independent review (EFSA, 2015. Conclusion on the peer review of the pesticide risk assessment of the active substance glyphosate)…

Sustainable systems [conclusion]Thus, in my own view, glyphosate – easily applied through machinery present on every farm and with a long history of effective use – has a key role to play in allowing conventional farming to better transition to more generally sustainable systems. It can support promising and popular keystone practices such as catch/cover cropping, minimum tillage and plant teams, that farmers and scientists alike agree can co-deliver for natural capital and crop production.

Talking to farmers this view seems to be shared by many conventional operations. While ‘the few’ are beginning to explore sustainable (conventional) agriculture in a post-glyphosate world, admirably trail-blazing a path that all will need to follow if glyphosate bans reach pandemic proportions, ‘the many’ would be discouraged from adopting these production practices in the absence of glyphosate. In the short-term at least, this would arguably slow overall progression to more sustainable farming models at a time when we need it to urgently accelerate.

Is there a greener side to glyphosate? At least for now, I think so.

Is there ‘A greener side to glyphosate?’ asks Dr Dave George – CHAP

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And finally, here’s a useful overview from three American academics from this week in The Conversation:

As North America enters its peak summer growing season, gardeners are planting and weeding, and groundskeepers are mowing parks and playing fields. Many are using the popular weed killer Roundup, which is widely available at stores like Home Depot and Target.

In the past two years, three U.S. juries have awarded multimillion-dollar verdicts to plaintiffs who asserted that glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup, gave them non-Hodgkin lymphoma, a cancer of the immune system. Bayer, a German chemical company, bought Roundup’s inventor, Monsanto, in 2018 and inherited some 125,000 pending lawsuits, of which it has settled all but about 30,000. The company is now considering ending U.S. retail sales of Roundup to reduce the risk of further lawsuits from residential users, who have been the main source of legal claims.

As scholars who study global tradefood systems and their effects on the environment, we see a bigger story: Generic glyphosate is ubiquitous around the globe. Farmers use it on a majority of the world’s agricultural fields. Humans spray enough glyphosate to coat every acre of farmland in the world with half a pound of it every year.

Glyphosate is now showing up in humans, but scientists are still debating its health effects. One thing is clear, though: Because it’s an effective and very cheap weedkiller, it has become pervasive…

While debate rages over glyphosate-based herbicides, farmers are spraying them all over the world

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photo: Pesticide Glyphosate Plant – Free photo on Pixabay

   
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