How banning one type of weedkiller could transform the food and farming industries

Despite it being an extremely popular and effective weedkiller used for many decades, we will soon no longer be able to buy glyphosate. While this is a nuisance for keen gardeners who like to keep their homegrown produce and lawns free from weeds, it also has an even greater impact on food prices, farming and even transport!

Read on to find out why the weedkiller was banned and how it could affect us in the future.

What’s the story of glyphosate?

Unless you really know your weedkillers, chances are you won’t have heard much about glyphosate. In fact, the herbicide is the most widely-bought weedkiller in the world and has actually been around since 1974 when it was brought out by Monsanto. Originally called ‘Roundup’, it fast became an important product for farmers to help kill weeds and boost productivity. Due to it being commonly sold, glyphosate-based formulations are now also used in: agriculture, forestry, aquatic environments, streets, parks, and schools.

The ban and the EU

The decision to outlaw glyphosate came from the European Parliament in October 2017, which has stated that the substance will be phased out by mid-December 2022. For many years, scientists have warned people against glyphosate, however, it’s taken a two-year debate for the European Parliament to vote 355 to 204 in favour of its ban. Now, measures must be adopted to phase out the use of glyphosate across the entire EU. However, it’s worth remembering that this was a non-binding vote. Members of the European Union and European Commission are now obligated to stop the use of glyphosate on farms, in public parks, and in households whenever other biological pest control systems are available.

How important is glyphosate?

Glyphosate is widely-used in the UK, which makes its ban all the more important for the economy. According to research from the Soil Association, the use of glyphosate in UK farming has increased by 400% over the past 20 years. The Guardian has also reported that there has almost been enough of the herbicide sprayed since its creation that it would cover every cultivable acre of Earth. Recently, glyphosate was discovered in: crisps, bread, biscuits, cereals and crackers.

Problems of glyphosate

Banning glyphosate came about as a response to the discovery of it in various food products, which highlighted it as a potential threat. 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 also argued that there is no safe lower level for human consumption.

How the ban of glyphosate could the food costs

Of course, it’s vital that we strive to deliver only safe, quality food to our supermarket shelves. However, banning glyphosate could cause negative effects that many haven’t considered. 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.”

Agreeing with Partridge is a Polish orchard farmer with experience of using glyphosate who commentated on Monsanto’s companion site Growing Our Future: “Production costs of fruit farming will definitely go up as we look to use more time and energy consuming methods of weed control. When production costs go up, prices in shops also go up and people should be aware of this. For fruit farmers, there is no alternative to glyphosate because there are no other products that do what it does.”

How the ban of glyphosate could affect train lines

What about other industries? On top of the ramifications on the food and farming industries, the prohibition of glyphosate is likely to impact negatively on businesses that clear rail tracks. 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.

How do companies currently make the tracks clear and safe? Specialist operator, Weedfree on Track has been combatting weed problems for over half a century via a method of using a “weed killer train”, which sprays a glyphosate solution onto areas that have been identified by a high-tech camera as having weeds with a specific amount of chlorophyll content. Jonathan Caine, operations manager at Weedfree on Track, said: “We’ve carried out a number of trials to see how much more effective the train is than manual methods and have estimated that manually doing the same job, in the same time frame, can cost up to 40 times more.”

Alongside this issue, we must also find or create a solution that’s equally as effective as glyphosate.  Jean-Pierre Deforet, a chemist at Belgian railway authority Infrabel, said in a Growing Our Future article: “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 created by Lycetts — a crop insurance supplier and financial services provider.

Additional sources:

http://www.breastcanceruk.org.uk/science-and-research/glyphosate/

https://www.soilassociation.org/our-campaigns/not-in-our-bread/what-is-glyphosate/

https://uk.reuters.com/article/us-eu-health-glyphosate/eu-lawmakers-demand-five-year-phase-out-of-weedkiller-glyphosate-idUKKBN1CT21H