MEPs launch new in­ves­ti­ga­tion into glyphosate and her­bi­cides

Irish Independent - Farming - - FINANCE -

THE much-ma­ligned weed­killer, glyphosate, is back in the news, as MEPs launch a re­port into its health ef­fects and an in­quiry into the EU’s over­all pes­ti­cides au­tho­ri­sa­tion sys­tem.

The re­port, by sci­en­tists from Italy’s Ra­mazz­ini In­sti­tute is part of a larger study billed as “the most com­pre­hen­sive study ever on glyphosate and glyphosate-based her­bi­cides”.

Glyphosate, the most-used her­bi­cide in the world and the ac­tive in­gre­di­ent in Mon­santo’s RoundUp, was re­li­cenced by the EU last year. But the li­cence only runs for five in­stead of the usual 15 years be­cause of a sci­en­tific row which erupted in 2015 over whether it causes can­cer.

Since then, sev­eral EU mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties, re­gions and coun­tries have moved to ban the sub­stance, and MEPs have called for a phase­out by 2022. Even the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion, in a pro­posal ahead of its li­cence renewal, re­com- mended that it be lim­ited in public spa­ces and at har­vest time.

France and Ger­many are weigh­ing up all-out bans, but farm­ers and lo­cal au­thor­i­ties are strug­gling to find ef­fec­tive and cheaper al­ter­na­tives.

The Pes­ti­cide Ac­tion Net­work rec­om­mends a com­bi­na­tion of pre­ven­tive mea­sures such as crop ro­ta­tion or mulching, ploughing or other phys­i­cal weed con­trol, “bi­o­log­i­cal” meth­ods (us­ing in­sects, bac­te­ria or graz­ing an­i­mals to at­tack weeds), and “nat­u­ral” her­bi­cides such as vine­gar.

“Flame weed­ing”, where liq­ue­fied gas-fu­elled flame-throw­ers are fixed to a trac­tor at­tach­ment and raked over row crops, has be­come a more pop­u­lar phys­i­cal method, but re­ports in Ger­many and Aus­tria say weeds are re­grow­ing and au­thor­i­ties are con­cerned about fires.

In the UK, Nor­wich and Bris­tol city coun­cils made head­lines af­ter us­ing vine­gar to try to con­trol weeds in public parks, but found it to be more costly than glyphosate and a lot more pun­gent.

There are new and meth­ods be­ing de­vel­oped — lasers, mi­crowave ra­di­a­tion, ul­tra-sonic and ro­botic weed con­trol — but many are some way off be­ing com­mer­cially vi­able.

Sri Lanka, mean­while, has par­tially rein­tro­duced glyphosate for the tea and rub­ber in­dus­tries, fol­low­ing a ban in 2015, be­cause of the “eco­nomic dam­age” it has done. How­ever, the gov­ern­ment in­tends to re­place it with an or­ganic weed­killer in a few years.

Par­lia­ment’s spe­cial com­mit­tee on pes­ti­cides, set up ear­lier this year, will quiz Ger­many’s fed­eral agency for risk as­sess­ment this week on glyphosate.

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