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East Anglian farmers defend use of weed killer glyphosate

PUBLISHED: 16:53 15 August 2018 | UPDATED: 16:53 15 August 2018

Glyphosate is in the spotlight again following an American court case Picture: GETTY IMAGES/ISTOCKPHOTO

Glyphosate is in the spotlight again following an American court case Picture: GETTY IMAGES/ISTOCKPHOTO

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East Anglian farmers have defended the use of weed killer glyphosate after the debate over its use was reignited following a US court case.

NFU vice president Guy Smith (centre) during a glyphosate debate at Cereals Picture: CHRIS HILLNFU vice president Guy Smith (centre) during a glyphosate debate at Cereals Picture: CHRIS HILL

Chemical giant Monsanto was ordered to pay £226m damages to a Californian man who claimed herbicides containing glyphosate had caused his cancer.

The National Farmers’ Union (NFU) deputy president, Guy Smith, who farms near Clacton-on-Sea, said farmers and politicians should be guided by scientific advice.

“Last year the relevant authorities in Europe, the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) and European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), reviewed all the evidence and deemed glyphosate safe,” he said. “EFSA and ECHA are comprised of scientific experts in toxicology whereas the Californian jury of lay-people in this case are not. We see no reason why this US court-case should stop UK farmers from using this safe herbicide that delivers environmental benefits by reducing greenhouse gas from extra cultivations while keeping soil structure in good order.”

Organic farmer John Pawsey, of Shimpling Park Farm, Bury St Edmunds, who sits on the NFU Combinable Crops Board, and NFU Organic Forum, said he didn’t use chemicals any more, but felt there were competing arguments.

He pointed out that a ban would hit ‘no till’ farmers, who use a system which means soils aren’t ploughed up, causing damage to their structure. “It’s very effective for dealing with perennial weeds,” he admitted. He feared an outright ban before farmers had an alternative would hit a “blossoming and relatively new and innovative process”.

“I think it’s very confusing for farmers in the country because of the evidence that sits on either side of the argument. Of course, everybody wants to be doing the right thing and not using a chemical that potentially causes people ill health,” he said.

Colchester farmer and NFU crops board chair Tom Bradshaw, who uses the no-till system, feared the US ruling would apply political pressure, but said for no-till there was no alternative. “Without glyphosate it would not be possible. There are no replacements and there are not even suggestions there’s anything in the pipeline,” he said. “My biggest fear is it ends up being banned in the EU and that puts pressure on our government.”

Emma Hockridge, head of policy at the Soil Association, said: “The ruling in this court case is a dramatic blow to the future use of glyphosate which affirms the 2015 decision of the International Agency for Research on Cancer, the World Health Organisation’s cancer agency, which found glyphosate to be a probable carcinogen. It confirms that it is sensible for UK farmers to be thinking about how they will manage without glyphosate, as organic famers already do.”

She added: “Organic farmers show that it is possible to farm successfully without using chemicals like glyphosate and a lot more should be done to help all farmers improve these practical alternatives they’ve pioneered, which pose less risk to our soils, environment, and health.”

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