WA farm­ers re­ject glyphosate claims

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Some of the State’s most renowned farm­ers have jumped to the de­fence of a “corner­stone of modern crop­ping” — glyphosate — after an “ex­pose” into its global use aired on ABC’s Four Cor­ners.

The Mon­day night pro­gram, coined “The Mon­santo Pa­pers”, shone a spot­light on the chem­i­cal’s use in Aus­tralia and fea­tured in­ter­views with Na­tional Farm­ers Fed­er­a­tion pres­i­dent Fiona Sim­son, Aus­tralian epi­demi­ol­o­gist Lin Fritschi and the Aus­tralian Pes­ti­cides and Vet­eri­nary Medicines Author­ity.

How­ever, WA’s peak farm ad­vo­cacy groups con­demned the pro­gram on Tues­day, say­ing its por­trayal of glyphosate as a can­cer-caus­ing agent had been blown out of pro­por­tion.

WAFarm­ers Grain Coun­cil pres­i­dent Dun­can Young and Pas­toral­ists and Gra­ziers As­so­ci­a­tion grains com­mit­tee pres­i­dent Gary McGill said the pro­gram lacked sub­stan­tial sci­en­tific ev­i­dence.

Mr Young said, in­stead, it re­lied on pseudo-sci­en­tific claims and hearsay that glyphosate — the most widely used her­bi­cide on the planet — was re­spon­si­ble for caus­ing can­cer and was the sole car­cino­genic in­volved in the US Court case be­tween a re­tired groundskeeper and Mon­santo (Bayer), which was or­dered to pay $US289 mil­lion.

Mr McGill said the PGA re­jected claims that glyphosate caused the can­cer, based on sci­en­tific ev­i­dence, and that it was not dif­fi­cult to sway a city-based jury.

Mr Young said de­tailed anal­y­sis and assess­ment had been car­ried out in more than 800 sci­en­tific stud­ies and re­views, in­clud­ing by Aus­tralia’s in­de­pen­dent reg­u­la­tor, APVMA.

Mon­santo, now owned by Ger­man crop science com­pany Bayer, has ap­pealed against the Cal­i­for­nian jury’s de­ci­sion.

Bayer dumped the Mon­santo name as soon as it com­pleted the US$63 bil­lion ac­qui­si­tion of the com­pany in Au­gust but is back­ing glyphosate, the key in­gre­di­ent in its Roundup prod­uct for more than 40 years.

York farmer Rhys Tur­ton has used glyphosate across his crop­ping op­er­a­tion for more than a decade. He said the her­bi­cide’s role in soil con­ver­sion through re­duced tillage, im­proved wa­ter use and weed tar­get­ing had served WA farm­ers ex­tremely well.

He said with­out glyphosate, grow­ers would be forced to com­plete “mul­ti­ple passes of tillage” at var­i­ous stages in the sea­son, miss­ing valu­able seed­ing win­dows and dry­ing out soil at a much greater cost.

“With­out it, peo­ple would go in early in the sea­son and fal­low ground by plough­ing it,” Mr Tur­ton said. “You might let a crop of weeds grow after the first rain, then go and kill them again with cul­ti­va­tors or ploughs. If it was a bad sit­u­a­tion, you might have to wait two or three weeks for the next lot of weeds to come up, be­fore you could con­fi­dently plant a real crop.”

Mr Tur­ton said the use of glyphosate had al­lowed farm­ers to “grow a greater quan­tity of food”, across a range of agri­cul­tural in­dus­tries.

“Glyphosate is a corner­stone of modern crop­ping sys­tems around the world,” he said. “I don’t see an al­ter­na­tive at this stage that is as safe, as broad act­ing, or as eco­nom­i­cally com­pet­i­tive.”

Sep­a­rately, shadow min­is­ter for agri­cul­ture Joel Fitzgib­bon said La­bor would move a Se­nate in­quiry into the in­de­pen­dence of reg­u­la­tory de­ci­sions made by the APVMA.

The in­quiry will con­sider the con­sider the ef­fec­tive­ness and re­spon­sive­ness of the APVMA’s pro­cesses for re­view­ing agri­cul­tural chem­i­cals — in­clud­ing glyphosate.

Mr Fitzgib­bon said La­bor would also con­sider the fund­ing ar­range­ments for the APVMA and any im­pact they have on its in­de­pen­dent, ev­i­dence­based de­ci­sion mak­ing.

Fed­eral Agri­cul­ture Min­is­ter David Lit­tleproud has thrown his sup­port be­hind the APVMA, la­belling glyphosate as safe.

“The weight of the ob­jec­tive sci­en­tific ev­i­dence shows when used in ac­cor­dance with la­bel in­struc­tions, glyphosate can be used safely,” he said.

For farm­ers like Mr Tur­ton the de­bate is wor­ry­ing.

How­ever, the York grower said he could not imag­ine the chem­i­cal be­ing banned in Aus­tralia.

“It is worth sit­ting up and lis­ten­ing to the de­bate, but I don’t feel there is a lot of sub­stance be­hind the ar­gu­ment,” he said.

Pic­ture: Si­mon Santi

York farmer Rhys Tur­ton has used glyphosate for years.

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