Just who is telling the truth? Department and Minister differ on weed killer usage on crops


Different answers are being given by Minister Creed and his department on the important health risk of the weed killer glyphosate and its use on our crops. Thats Farming investigates.

Just who is telling the truth? Department and Minister differ on weed killer usage on crops

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Different answers are being given by Minister Creed and his department on the important health risk of the weed killer glyphosate and its use on our crops. Thats Farming investigates.

A Department of Agriculture statement received by That's Farming about farm chemicals and public health differs from a Dáil response given by Agriculture Minister Michael Creed. The oversight concerns pre-harvest spraying of crops with the herbicide glyphosate.

A fortnight ago That's Farming published an investigation into the use in Ireland of glyphosate, the main ingredient in Roundup, and the world's most widely used weed killer. In particular we wanted to know about pre-harvest desiccation, which involves spraying off a crop before harvesting it. This practice helps with reducing moisture content as well as evening up the ripening process, but it leaves high residues of the chemical on the crop. The World Health Organisation said last year glyphosate is “probably carcinogenic to humans”. This finding has been disputed by numerous bodies including the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), but this has not allayed the fears of those who worry about glyphosate presence in our food.

In response to a request from That's Farming, the Department of Agriculture sent a statement which said: “The Commission regulation considers that in certain situations pre-harvest uses to check or prevent undesired growth of weeds are in line with good agricultural practices while uses with the intention to control the time point of harvest or to optimise the threshing may not be considered within good agricultural practices.” The statement goes on to say that in Ireland, “pre-harvest glyphosate application in cereals will be restricted to those situations where it is necessary for weed control purposes only.” The Department also states that “the vast majority of producers” do not spray off crops before harvesting, “as they are part of quality-assurance schemes”. Yet this implies that some do, as anybody can say they need to control weeds which is “good agricultural practice”. So this statement leaves both the practice of desiccation, and the question of how common it is, quite open.

Meanwhile, answering questions from Deputy Willie Penrose in the Dáil, Minister Creed didn't mention weed control at all. He explicitly stated that the practice of pre-harvest desiccation is only allowed for oilseed rape. “The use of products containing Glyphosate as a desiccant is currently restricted to use in oilseed rape.”

One tillage farmer told That's Farming that pre-harvest desiccation was common “about seven or eight years ago”, but that he has not seen it done since then and he himself never tried it. He said it is most likely restricted to barley destined for use as animal feed.

In a study last year glyphosate was found in the urine of 44% of test subjects. As its presence in food in the US has increased dramatically since the onset of GM crops, so too has concern about its safety. Europe doesn't allow GM crops for human consumption, but pre-harvest desiccation was for a time carried out on many food crops, from beans and peas to sunflowers, potatoes, wheat and oats. It seems that this was a trend that may have abated even before the European Commission, fresh in the wake of the WHO's damning supposition, started considering the renewal of glyphosate's EU licence earlier this year.

Legally there is no framework restricting pre-harvest desiccation in Ireland. Austria banned the practice in 2013 and while France and the Netherlands have restricted non-farming glyphosate usage, no other European country has moved on pre-harvest applications. Eric Donald, Press Officer with Teagasc, told us that “Teagasc advises growers on crop production and the use of crop protection products within the legal restrictions of the product label as laid down during the approval process.” Mr Donald added: “Glyphosate has been available for over 40 years, we don’t have records as to when during the intervening period it started to be used for pre-harvest desiccation (and it will differ between countries), however, it has been used in that way for many years. Any such change in approval for use of a product is only given following a stringent review of data to ensure safety, and the data is updated and re-evaluated when re approval is sought.”

That's Farming contacted numerous politicians to canvass their views on the subject. Fine Gael directed us to the Department of Agriculture; numerous Fianna Fáil politicians responded with a party statement placing the matter in EFSA hands (reproduced below); Labour's Joan Burton forwarded on Deputy Penrose's exchange in the Dáil, quoted already (and reproduced in full below). Deputy Thomas Pringle also asked the Minister questions about glyphosate safety, to which a third set of replies was given, but these questions did not directly address pre-harvest desiccation.

In conclusion, we are no closer to knowing more about the dangers or otherwise of glyphosate. The very fact that there is doubt should be a concern. With our minister and politicians determined to carry on as normal, it is up to those of us who have concerns to bring them forward. The EFSA is reviewing glyphosate safety at present and will conclude its research in late 2017. Meanwhile it is up to farmers themselves to decide how to treat their crops.

Eric Donald, Press Officer with Teagasc responds to questions about pre-harvest desiccation from That's Farming:

Have Teagasc any statement to make on this matter?
EFSA are the European authority on such issues relating to human health and Teagasc take their recommendations in these circumstances.

Does Teagasc still recommend this practise?

Teagasc advises growers on crop production and the use of crop protection products within the legal restrictions of the product label as laid down during the approval process.

Can Teagasc pin-point where the idea for pre-harvest desiccation came from and what safety procedures if any were then taken?

Glyphosate has been available for over 40 years, we don’t have records as to when during the intervening period it started to be used for pre-harvest desiccation (and it will differ between countries), however, it has been used in that way for many years. Any such change in approval for use of a product is only given following a stringent review of data to ensure safety, and the data is updated and re-evaluated when re approval is sought

Statement received from numerous Fianna Fáil TDs including Charlie McConalogue TD, Fianna Fáil Spokesperson on Agriculture, Food & The Marine:


“Last summer, the European Commission extended glyphosate authorisation for 18 months for the herbicide ingredient that is used in Roundup.

Under EU regulations, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has the final say on the carcinogenicity of glyphosate. Previously EFSA said that “it is unlikely that this substance is carcinogenic”

Irish farming organisations had said that failure to renew the authorisation would be a setback for farming especially in the tillage sector. Views centred on the following. If the substance was not renewed for use, there is an absence of a viable alternative active ingredient necessary for weed control on farmland.

Ireland has a green grass based method of agriculture production with the one of the most efficient and low carbon footprints globally. We need to do everything to sustain this model, while meeting our environmental responsibilities.”

Michael Creed responds to Labour's Deputy Willie Penrose :

Deputy Willie Penrose asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the policy considerations that are undertaken by his Department in relation to the applications of glyphosate as part of the desiccation process; if his Department has had consultations with the Department of Health in relation to its safety from a health perspective and its efficacy; if it's use has been reassessed in the context of reports from the WHO, New Zealand, Australia and the United States; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40195/16]

Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine (Deputy Michael Creed): My Department is the “Competent Authority” responsible for the approval of pesticides (Plant Protection Products & Biocide Products). A cohort of specialists including human toxicologists, environmental toxicologists, chemists, environmental chemists, efficacy experts and biologists enable all necessary decisions to be made without routine consultation with the Department of Health.

The use of products containing Glyphosate as a desiccant is currently restricted to use in oilseed rape. All risk assessments supporting this use, conducted internally or by our EU or international equivalents, support the fact that this use is safe not only from an environmental perspective but also from a human toxicology point of view.

To facilitate continued approval of glyphosate in the EU, an evaluation was performed by Germany and peer reviewed by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and Member State experts. This review clearly identified the safety profile of glyphosate and considered a recent review conducted by World Health Organisation (WHO). Reviews conducted by the relevant authorities in New Zealand, Australia and the United States derive similar but less conservative conclusions. In addition a further review of glyphosate by the European Chemicals Agency is currently on-going. This review will consider the classification of the active substance and should be available in the later part of 2017.

Deputy Pringle's questions in the Dáil:

QUESTION NO: 233

DÁIL QUESTION addressed to the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine (Deputy Michael Creed)
by Deputy Thomas Pringle
for WRITTEN ANSWER on 14/12/2016



To ask the Minister for Agriculture; Food and the Marine if his attention has been drawn to the links made between the herbicide farmers use to spray their crops containing glyphosate, a non selective broad spectrum herbicide and non Hodgkins lymphoma disease; the reason it has not been banned here despite it being banned in 11 other countries including France and the Netherlands; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

REPLY.


My Department is aware of the publicity surrounding the report on glyphosate issued by a World Health Organisation (WHO) affiliate, the International Agency for Cancer Research (IARC) in which a supposed link between occupational exposure to glyphosate and a risk of risk of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma is cited. We are further aware that another WHO affiliate, the Joint Meeting on Pesticide Residues (JMPR) does not concur with this position.

The conclusion of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and the regulatory authorities of other OECD countries is based on a large data set of high reliability and quality identifies that glyphosate can be used safely. Indeed, in addition to the EU conclusions on glyphosate, the authorities of the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand have all published their reviews on glyphosate since 2015, concluding that glyphosate is probably not carcinogenic to humans and they do not intend imposing any additional conditions on the continued use of glyphosate.

Glyphosate is not currently banned in France and the Netherlands or indeed any other country in Europe.

[That's Farming would like to clarify, it is currently restricted in France and the Netherlands but indeed not banned outright.]

QUESTION NO: 234

DÁIL QUESTION addressed to the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine (Deputy Michael Creed)
by Deputy Thomas Pringle
for WRITTEN ANSWER on 14/12/2016



To ask the Minister for Agriculture; Food and the Marine his views on whether current legislation is working effectively to prevent illness as a result of application and exposure to farm chemicals including herbicides containing glyphosate; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

REPLY.


My Department is the “Competent Authority” responsible for the approval of pesticides (Plant Protection Products & Biocide Products) and also for the safe use of pesticides. Two dedicated divisions comprised of specialists including human toxicologists, environmental toxicologists, chemists, environmental chemists, efficacy experts and biologists supported by other Divisions of my Department and when necessary, other Departments and State agencies, ensure that Ireland has a robust pesticide approval process. In addition, control of pesticide use in the form of pesticide residue monitoring, pesticide application equipment testing as well as training of operators, distributors and advisors coupled with a rigorous retail wholesale and farm inspection programme ensures a extremely visible presence in the sector. This, coupled with the regulatory process in the EU, which is among the most conservative in the world, you provides assurance that consumers, farm operatives and the general public are not at risk from plant protection products and biocides on farm, when used as directed on the labels. The Irish and EU systems are such that the health and welfare of both citizens and the environment takes primacy over other considerations. The removal of hundreds of pesticides from the Irish market (which are still available in other OECD countries) over the last 20 years is testament to this.

In relation to continued approval of glyphosate in the EU, an evaluation was performed by Germany and peer reviewed by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and Member State experts. This review identified the safety profile of glyphosate and considered a recent review conducted by the World Health Organisation (WHO). Reviews conducted by the relevant authorities in New Zealand, Australia and the United States derive similar but less conservative conclusions. In addition a further review of glyphosate by the European Chemicals Agency is currently on-going. This review will consider the classification of the active substance and should be available in the later part of 2017.


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