De­bate about glyphosate a po­lit­i­cal one

Warwick Daily News - South West Queensland Rural Weekly - - Grains Feature - JAMES WAGSTAFF James.wagstaff@news.com.au

BRI­TISH farm leader Guy Smith reck­ons he can re­call the ex­act mo­ment the de­bate over the health ef­fects of con­tro­ver­sial weed killer glyphosate in Europe “de­scended into non­sense”.

He was shar­ing a stage with a Greens Mem­ber of the Eu­ro­pean Par­lia­ment who was “very keen to make a big song and dance” about the fact that she had a sam­ple of her urine and it con­tained 1–2 parts per bil­lion of glyphosate.

“She thought that alone should cause dis­tress with all the mem­bers of the Eu­ro­pean Par­lia­ment and they would ban it im­me­di­ately,” said Mr Smith, who runs a mixed fam­ily farm in north­east Es­sex and is deputy pres­i­dent of the UK Na­tional Farm­ers Union lobby group.

“I couldn’t help but point out to her that she had 400 times as much ar­senic in her urine than glyphosate – which is a known toxin be­cause it is nat­u­rally oc­cur­ring. I then couldn’t stop my­self but point out that at that level of con­cen­tra­tion she would have to pee 30,000 litres onto a sin­gle this­tle to have a hope of killing it.

“The se­ri­ous point here is try­ing to ex­plain risk to con­sumers. It is ex­tremely dif­fi­cult and I think there is a good de­bate to be had about who should lead this ar­gu­ment (for pro­tect­ing glyphosate) – whether it should be the farm­ers, whether it should be the sci­en­tists or whether it should be the com­pa­nies. I think it has to be a bal­ance of all three but where we … need to think more strate­gi­cally about how we do this.”

Glyphosate has be­come a hot topic in in­dus­try cir­cles in re­cent years amid claims and law­suits ques­tion­ing its ef­fects on hu­man health.

In 2015, the World Health Or­gan­i­sa­tion’s In­ter­na­tional Agency for Re­search on Can­cer pub­lished a re­port list­ing glyphosate as “prob­a­bly car­cino­genic to hu­mans”. In Au­gust, a judge in Brazil or­dered the sus­pen­sion of the use of glyphosate on crops over hu­man safety con­cerns while a US jury awarded

$290 mil­lion to a Cal­i­for­nian groundskeeper af­ter rul­ing that ex­po­sure to the her­bi­cide had con­trib­uted to his ter­mi­nal can­cer. De­spite wide­spread op­po­si­tion from some sec­tors of the com­mu­nity, Europe last year al­lowed for an ex­ten­sion of glyphosate for an­other five years.

In Aus­tralia, Gene Ethics said the US rul­ing in Au­gust posed “thorny ques­tions for Aus­tralians” about the safety of glyphosate and called for it to be banned. Both the Greens and the Can­cer Coun­cil of Aus­tralia re­cently called for an in­de­pen­dent re­view into the use of glyphosate in the wake of an ABC Four Cor­ners ex­pose on the health ef­fects as­so­ci­ated with us­ing Roundup – the world’s big­gest sell­ing weed killer, which has glyphosate as its main in­gre­di­ent.

Bill Reeves, reg­u­la­tory pol­icy and sci­en­tific af­fairs man­ager at Bayer, which this year merged with Roundup man­u­fac­turer Mon­santo, said while glyphosate was safe and ef­fec­tive it had be­come a “po­lit­i­cal mol­e­cule”.

“This is a mol­e­cule that is not only a sym­bol of Mon­santo, it is a sym­bol of GMO, it is a sym­bol of mod­ern agri­cul­ture,” Mr Reeves told the re­cent Bayer Fu­ture of Farm­ing Di­a­logue in Ger­many.

“In the US it has be­come a way to drive con­cerns among con­sumers about GMOs. It is very hard to ex­plain a GMO to a con­sumer in a way that gets them up­set. But when I start telling you about chem­istry … gotcha. It re­ally is an at­ten­tion-grab­bing ploy.

“We are see­ing that now with the lit­i­ga­tion. There’s a lot of mo­ti­va­tion to get peo­ple con­cerned about glyphosate who have never heard of it be­fore.”

Mr Reeves, who pre­vi­ously worked with the Cal­i­for­nian En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency be­fore tak­ing a job with Mon­santo, said the pro­cesses in­volv­ing the man­u­fac­ture of glyphosate prod­ucts were highly scru­ti­nised. For Roundup to be­come ini­tially reg­is­tered, more than 100 stud­ies were car­ried out as part of a sci­en­tific pack­age to prove its ef­fec­tive­ness and safety.

*James Wagstaff trav­elled to Europe as a guest of Bayer Crop Science.

PHOTO: FILE

Both the Greens and the Can­cer Coun­cil of Aus­tralia re­cently called for an in­de­pen­dent re­view into the use of glyphosate in the wake of an ABC Four Cor­ners ex­pose on the health ef­fects as­so­ci­ated with us­ing Roundup.

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