Soil Association Calls for a Ban of Glyphosate Weedkiller

Permaculture magazine
Tuesday, 2nd February 2016

The weedkiller, Glyphosate, is known as a human carcinogen yet its use has soared 15-fold in the last 10 years since GM crops were introduced. The Soil Association reports.

The Soil Association is calling for a UK ban on the use of glyphosate which is sprayed on UK wheat as a pre-harvest weedkiller. It kills any unripe corn in the crop to speed up harvesting.

The push for a ban on glyphosate comes after today's news that glyphosate usage across the globe has risen 15-fold.

According to the research paper, Trends in glyphosate herbicide use in the United States and globally by Charles M. Benbrook, published today (February 2nd 2016), glyphosate usage has increased in usage almost 15-fold since so-called 'Roundup Ready', genetically modified (GM), glyphosate-tolerant crops were introduced in 1996. Over 70% of the total volume of glyphosate sprayed world-wide over the last 40 years (1974-2014) has been sprayed in just the last 10 years.

Peter Melchett, policy director at the Soil Association said; “This research reveals that Monsanto’s Glyphosate is now the most heavily used weed-killer in history, and use is sky-rocketing - nearly 75% of all Glyphosate ever sprayed on crops was used in the last 10 years. This huge increase in chemical spraying is what we can expect if GM crops are ever grown in England. As well as being identified as a probable human carcinogen, the research notes that recent studies have made the connection between glyphosate exposure and a number of serious health effects as well as cancer, including the degeneration of the liver and kidney, as well as non-Hodgkin lymphoma. The research rightly questions the safety of using Glyphosate just before they are harvested on crops destined for people to eat – a growing practice in the UK, which must end.”

Glyphosate is used in public parks and other urban areas to kill weeds, and in the last year for which government figures are available, nearly a third of UK cereals, wheat and barley, were sprayed with glyphosate – a total of just over one million hectares.

The facts

- There were about 1.4 billion hectares of actively farmed, arable cropland worldwide in 2014. Across this landmass, there were an estimated 747 million kg of agricultural applications of glyphosate. If this volume of glyphosate had been applied evenly, about 0.53 kg of glyphosate could have been sprayed on every hectare of cropland on the planet (0.47 lbs/acre). Glyphosate was, of course, not applied evenly on every hectare of cropland. The average rate of glyphosate applications per hectare per crop year during 2014 fell in the range of 1.5-2kg per hectare. 

- Total worldwide glyphosate use (agricultural plus non-agricultural) rose more than 12-fold from about 67 million kg in 1995 to 826 million kg in 2014 (0.15 to 1.8 billion pounds). Over the last decade, 6.1 billion kgs of glyphosate have been applied, 71.6% of total use worldwide from 1974-2014.

- In the U.S. soybean sector, the average number of glyphosate applications rose from 1.1 per crop year in 1996 to 1.52 in 2014, while the one-time rate of application rose from 0.7kg/hectare (0.63 pound/acre) to 1.1kg/hectare (0.98 pound/acre) in the same period.

- Genetically engineered, herbicide-tolerant crops now account for about 56% of global glyphosate use. In the U.S., no pesticide has come remotely close to such intensive and widespread use. Given that glyphosate is moderately persistent and mobile, levels in surface and groundwater will be likely to rise in step with use, and this will increase the diversity of potential routes of animal and human exposure.

- Global Glyphosate Use. Worldwide glyphosate use was modest in the 1970s compared to the most heavily applied herbicides then on the market (e.g. atrazine, metolachlor). The volume applied grew relatively slowly until the GE era. By 1994, global agricultural use had reached 43 million kg of active ingredient (95 million pounds). Another 13 million kg were applied outside agriculture, for a total of 56.3 million kg (124 million pounds).

- Figures analysed by the Soil Association from government data last year revealed glyphosate use in UK farming has increased by 400% in the last 20 years. The Soil Association also revealed glyphosate is one of the three pesticides regularly found in routine testing of British bread - appearing in up to 30% of samples tested by the Defra committee on Pesticide Residues in Food (PRiF) in recent years.

Serious doubts have been cast over the claimed ‘safety’ of glyphosate. In 2015, the World Health Organisation’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), concluded ‘Glyphosate is probably carcinogenic to humans’.

Further resources

All the above statistics come from the paper, www.enveurope.com/content/28/1/3/abstract

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