Glyphosate pros & cons
On behalf of, and with our thanks to John Hannen
Can a weedkiller ban harm the food and farming industries?
By 2022, we may no longer be able to use the world’s most widely-sold weedkiller, Glyphosate. This popular and effective herbicide is used by gardeners, allotment owners and industries across the UK, so how will a possible ban affect us?
Why are the EU considering a ban on Glyphosate?
The European Parliament voted 355 to 204 in favour of outlawing Glyphosate in October 2017. But the proposal is not to stop it being sold straight away, instead, the substance could be ‘phased out’ in EU states over the course of five years. For many years, scientists have warned people against Glyphosate, however, it’s taken a two-year debate for the European Parliament to talk of a ban. Members of the European Union and European Commission are now obligated to stop the use of Glyphosate on farms, in public parks, and in households whenever other biological pest control systems are available. However, it’s important to note that this was a non-binding vote.
How important is Glyphosate?
Few people know the name Glyphosate, so you’ll be surprised to hear that it’s widely-used across the country. According to research from the Soil Association, the use of Glyphosate in UK farming has increased by 400% over the past two decades. The Guardian has also reported that there has almost been enough of the herbicide sprayed since its creation that it would cover every cultivable acre of Earth. Recently, Glyphosate was discovered in: cereals, crisps, bread, biscuits, and crackers.
The history of Glyphosate goes back to 1974 when it was released by Monsanto. Originally called ‘Roundup’, it fast became an important product for farmers to help kill weeds and boost productivity. Due to it being commonly sold, Glyphosate-based formulations are now also used in: agriculture, forestry, aquatic environments, streets, parks, and schools.
Some scientists and medical experts have long claimed that Glyphosate has the potential to harm human health. Fears have long been raised that the herbicide is a hormone disrupter that is linked to birth defects, the development of cancerous tumours and other developmental disorders. Some scientists have also argued that there is no safe lower level for human consumption. NB: see footnote below
While health and safety is of the utmost importance, you can’t ignore the prediction that banning Glyphosate will hike up food costs. A Polish orchard farmer with experience of Glyphosate used Monsanto’s companion site, Growing Our Future, to state that: “Production costs of fruit farming will definitely go up as we look to use more time and energy consuming methods of weed control. When production costs go up, prices in shops also go up and people should be aware of this. For fruit farmers, there is no alternative to Glyphosate because there are no other products that do what it does.”
Similarly, Monsanto’s vice president, Scott Partridge, commented to The Guardian that: “You would see increased costs for farming and decreased productivity, increased greenhouse gas emissions, loss of topsoil, and loss of moisture. Farmers through Europe would be very upset that a very effective and safe tool had been taken out of their hands.”
It’s not only our gardens, allotments and agricultural areas that could suffer with the ban of Glyphosate. It’s also come to light that companies in charge of clearing railway lines liberally use the substance. Weeds that are left unchecked can significantly restrict track visibility, track access for workers and possibly even render a line impassable in severe cases across Europe’s railways.
A method of using a “weed killer train” that sprays a Glyphosate solution onto areas that have been identified by a high-tech camera as having weeds is employed by leading firm, Weedfree on Track. Operations manager at Weedfree on Track, Jonathan Cain, said: “We’ve carried out a number of trials to see how much more effective the train is than manual methods and have estimated that manually doing the same job, in the same time frame, can cost up to 40 times more.”
It’s not only the method of clearing weeds, but the solution used to do it that is causing problems. Jean-Pierre Deforet, a chemist at Belgian railway authority Infrabel, said in a Growing Our Future article: “The alternatives are to use mulch or to spray manually. But allowing people onto the tracks would cause another, bigger safety issue than spraying from the train.”
Perhaps finding an alternative to glyphosate will also increase production costs and lead to safety issues for business like these following the ban.
This article was created by Lycetts — a crop insurance supplier and financial services provider based in north-east England that offers insurance across the UK.
Cancer claim update
Since this article was originally published a new study seen by Reuters disputes any significant increase in cancer linked with exposure to Glyphosate. Please refer to the following link:
Of course, following the UK's decision to leave the European Union any decision on the future use of this weedkiller in the UK will be a matter for the UK parliament to decide. Who may, or may not, choose to follow the EU lead