'Roundup isn't a monster or poison'- tillage farmers defend controversial weed killer

Monsanto's Roundup weedkiller that contains glyphosate for sale in France. REUTERS/Charles Platiau
Monsanto's Roundup weedkiller that contains glyphosate for sale in France. REUTERS/Charles Platiau
Claire Fox

Claire Fox

Tillage farmers have defended controversial weed killer glyphosate which they say is wrongly being portrayed as a “monster” and “poison” by people who don’t understand agriculture and food production.

On Monday a Californian jury awarded more than €2bn to a couple who claimed Bayer AG’s glyphosate-based Roundup weed killer caused their cancer.

This was the third and largest US verdict to date against the company, despite a recent statement from the US Environmental Protection Agency that said that glyphosate is not a carcinogen.

France has also signalled that it will phase out the herbicide by the end of 2020.

However, Irish tillage farmers have hit out at claims that the weedkiller should be banned and at ‘mistruths’ about the rate and amount of the product they use.

Clive Carter who is a farmer from Ratheniska, Co Laois told the Farming Independent that US court case verdicts are often based on “emotion rather than science” and stated that as long as the EU says glyphosate is safe to use he will continue to use it at pre sowing stage.

“Farmers are professional users and have all been trained. Farmers are an easy target in this debate but it’s proven by the EU that there’s no carcinogenic link. Smoking is linked to cancer but it is still legal. It’s being portrayed as a monster by people who don’t understand farming,” said Mr Carter.

Fellow Ratheniska farmer Colm Fingleton added that only a small amount of glyphosate is used by Irish farmers at pre-sowing stage and said that it would be very damaging to the sector if usage of the weedkiller was prohibited in the future.

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“There’s an impression out there that we’re using it on everything. This is misleading. There are higher rates in most gardens. It would be very damaging to the sector if it was curtailed. The word chemical shouldn’t be seen as bad, we’re not trying to poison people,” he said.

Kildare tillage farmer Helen Harris explained that there’s an onus on the EU to defend glyphosate and farmers against “flavour of the month” social media claims against the weedkiller.

“The EU need to give strong guidelines on the safe usage of glyphosate and defend farmers. It would be a huge step backwards if this was banned. I don’t think people realise that if glyphosate was banned it would mean we would have to use another spray that would be less cost effective and less friendly to the environment,” she said.

Irish Grain Growers Group chair Bobby Miller pointed out that his biggest concern was that two-thirds of grain is imported as animal feed where unregulated amounts of glyphosate could be used and that this is something that needs to be examined first.

Head of Crop Sciences at Bayer AG Liam Condon told the Farming Independent in January that he had "no doubts" around the safety of Roundup.

"There's no doubts around the safety of the product if every regulatory agency says this is safe. We are completely behind the product, and farmers around the world tell us they absolutely need this and we have to make sure it stays available to farmers."

“The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) basically put glyphosate in to the same category as hot drinks, red meat, aloe vera… so a lot of stuff that you would say is consumed or used on a daily basis by an average person without anybody screaming for the products to be banned," he said.

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