In October 2017, the European Parliament voted in favour of banning glyphosate — the globe’s most commonly-sold herbicide — across the EU. Branded a danger to human health due to cross contamination between the substance and food products, many consider the ban long overdue.
Despite experts claiming this is a positive move for ensuring healthier produce, are there any negative effects of the ban on professional sectors such as gardening, agriculture and transportation? Lycetts, a leading UK provider of reliable crop insurance, is here to explore the issue of outlawing a key industry product.
The popularity of using glyphosate on UK farms
The main issue with glyphosate is the risk of it contaminating food destined for supermarket shelves. A report by food Democracy Now! and the Detox Project found that the chemical had been present in tested foods such as: cereals, biscuits, crackers, and crisps. Clearly, nobody wants this contamination to continue unchecked, however, some advocates of keeping glyphosate on sale might protest that industries could have simply better monitored its use to prevent other contaminated incidences rather than ban it all together.
But is this possible? Or we already using far too much to keep it safe from harm? The Guardian reported that there has almost been enough of the herbicide sprayed since its creation that it would cover every cultivable acre of Earth, while research from the Soil Association shows that the use of glyphosate in UK farming has risen by 400% over the past two decades. Evidently, this amount would be hard to monitor.
The origins and repercussions of glyphosate
The weed killer has been on the market since the 1970s and used to go by the brand name ‘Roundup’ in the 1970s. Introduced by agricultural company, Monsanto, glyphosate-based substances are currently used in everything from parks and school grounds, to farming and forestry.
Essentially, the European Parliament found that the risk of glyphosate contaminating more food produce was too great to allow the situation to continue. 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. Plus, certain scientists have even suggested that there is no safe lower level for human consumption.
Why did the European Parliament intervene?
The European Parliament has debated the issue of glyphosate for two years. However, it voted 355 to 204 in favour of the ban, and has since urged the European Commission to adopt measures to phase out the use of glyphosate across the entire EU by mid-December 2022.
Remember, this is a phasing out ruling, not an immediate ban. Although, the use of glyphosate around public parks, on farms and within households whenever other biological pest control systems are available is now prohibited in member states of both the European Commission and the EU.
The hike in food prices post-ban
Despite the positive effects of banning glyphosate — mainly, the decreased chances of contaminated foods — there are expected to be some negative outcomes of the prohibition. Glyphosate is used by the agricultural sector to clear crop fields of weeds and boost growth, but how will farmers cope once they’re stopped from using this effective herbicide?
Monsanto’s vice president, Scott Partridge, stated to The Guardian: “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.”
However, could it be possible that farmers and agricultural workers can lessen the negative impact by switching to an alternative? Reportedly, this might be difficult. A Polish orchard farmer who has used the herbicide for work, explained to Monsanto’s companion site, Growing Our Future: “The use of other herbicides would require a greater number of applications, which would result in more environmental pollution. For fruit farmers, there is no alternative to glyphosate because there are no other products that do what it does.”
The ramification of a glyphosate prohibition on transportation
Which other sectors are likely to be adversely affected by the phasing out of glyphosate products? Although the food and farming industries are likely to feel the change the most, many transport-related businesses will also have to make adjustments to compensate for the ban.
To maintain safe tracks, companies employed to clear rail lines rely on glyphosate products to wipe out weeds quickly. Weeds can significantly restrict track visibility, access for workers and possibly even render a line impassable in severe cases. Specialist operator, Weedfree on Track, has been battling these problems for around 50 years through a method called a “weed killer train”. These machines target a glyphosate solution onto areas which have been identified by a high-tech camera as having weeds with a specific amount of chlorophyll content.
But with the phasing out of one of the sector’s most highly prized products, how will workers be able to carry out their jobs to achieve the same high standards without glyphosate? Operations manager at Weedfree on Track, Jonathan Caine, commented: “We’ve carried out a number of trials to see how much more effective the train is than manual methods. We’ve estimated manually do the same job, in the same time frame, can cost up to 40 times more. Weedfree on Track is dedicated to trying to reduce the use of pesticides, but whether you’re hand-cutting, using steam, acetic acid or a bio-chemical, the alternatives simply aren’t as effective when used correctly.”
Of course, we must remember that this is not a problem limited to the UK — companies across the EU will have to change their processes to adhere to the new ruling on glyphosate. Jean-Pierre Deforet, a chemist at Belgian railway authority Infrabel, pointed out in a Growing Our Future article: “There are currently no alternatives that are as effective as glyphosate, which would cause a huge problem for Belgium’s railways. 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.”
Overall, it looks like there are tough times ahead for those in certain industries when it comes to the complete removal of glyphosate from EU markets.