Banning the sale of the world’s most commonly used weedkiller, glyphosate, will not be an easy transition. But due to recent discoveries of food containing the herbicide and its potential dangers to human health, the European Parliament has called for it to be phased out over the next five years.
Although all threats to welfare must be taken seriously, it doesn’t seem that anyone has yet considered the ramifications that banning such a useful product could have on industries such as gardening, transportation, farming, food production, and beyond…
What have the European Parliament decided
It’d be incorrect to assume that contamination was recently discovered and all of a sudden, the potential dangers of glyphosate were examined. In fact, scientists have debated and asserted the harm of glyphosate for many years. Following a two-year debate, the European Parliament voted by 355 to 204 in favour of a resolution that has urged the European Commission to adopt measures to phase out the use of glyphosate across the entire EU by mid-December 2022. However, it’s worth remembering that this was a non-binding vote.
Although this ban is not with immediate effect, the use of glyphosate around public parks, on farms and within households whenever other biological pest control systems are available is now not allowed in member states of both the European Commission and the European Union.
Glyphosate: defining it and its disadvantages
Glyphosate has been around for more than four decades. First released under the brand name ‘Roundup’ and introduced to the market by agricultural company, Monsanto, glyphosate-based formulations are now used in everything from agriculture, farming and forestry, to parks, streets and schools.
But what exactly are the disadvantages of glyphosate and why has the European Parliament taken such a bold step by banning the substance? 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 argued that there is no safe lower level for human consumption.
The prevalence of glyphosate in the UK
As the most commonly sold herbicide in the world, it’s clear that monitoring the use of glyphosate would have been extremely difficult. The Guardian has reported that there has almost been enough of the herbicide sprayed since its creation that it would cover every cultivable acre of Earth, while, according to research from the Soil Association, the use of glyphosate in UK farming has risen by 400% over the past two decades. A probable reason behind why we have found the herbicide in crisps, bread, biscuits, cereals, and crackers is possibly due to the prevalence of glyphosate in industries across the nation.
The prohibition of glyphosate and food prices
As we mentioned, the impact on industrial sectors could be great if they are no longer allowed to use glyphosate. Monsanto’s vice president, Scott Partridge, who believes that the move could cause “uproar in the agricultural community”, 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.”
Looking at the issue from another perspective, it’s also apparent that banning glyphosate will be detrimental to production and possibly the environment, particularly as there doesn’t seem to be a substitute. A Polish orchard farmer with first-hand experience of using the herbicide, 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 impact of banning glyphosate across the continent
It’s not only the food and farming industries that face revising operations. 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.
Consequently, those in the transportation sector will also be affected by the banning of glyphosate. Specialist operator Weedfree on Track has been combatting these problems for over half a century through a method which sees a “weed killer train” accurately spraying a glyphosate solution only onto areas which have been identified by a high-tech camera as having weeds with a specific amount of chlorophyll content.
“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,” said operations manager at Weedfree on Track, Jonathan Caine.
Evidently, an alternative to glyphosate needs to be found, but this is easier said than done.Jean-Pierre Deforet, a chemist at Belgian railway authority Infrabel, pointed out in a Growing Our Future article: “If glyphosate were to be banned then we would have to find an alternative. There are currently no alternatives that are as effective, 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.”
This article was researched and created by Lycetts, a leading UK provider of reliable crop insurance for clients across the country.