EU restriction unlikely to affect glyphosate in UK

Glyphosate use in parks and public spaces in the UK is likely to be little affected by a recent EU agreement to restrict its use.

Pesticides: Sustainable Use Directive rules reinforced
Pesticides: Sustainable Use Directive rules reinforced

On 30 June the European Commission extended the approval for the popular weedkiller until the European Chemicals Agency issues its opinion on whether the chemical is hazardous. The extended approval will last until the end of 2017, at the latest.

Following the extension, EU member state experts voted on 11 July to strengthen restrictions on use of the weedkiller, including a ban on the toxic co-formulant polyethoxylated (POE) tallowamine being used in glyphosate-based products. The new version of the regulations was published in the Official Journal of the European Union on 2 August and comes into force on 22 August.

Apart from the POE-tallowamine ban, the recommendations merely amount to a reminder to follow the rules in the EU's Sustainable Use Directive. Member states must "pay particular attention to compliance of pre-harvest uses with good agricultural practices" and "must pay particular attention to the protection of the groundwater in vulnerable areas, in particular with respect to non-crop uses", according to the new regulations.

They must also pay attention to the risks in areas specified in the Sustainable Use Directive, including "places such as public parks and gardens, sports and recreation grounds, school grounds and children's playgrounds, and in the close vicinity of healthcare facilities". The directive says risks from exposure to pesticides are high in these areas and pesticide use should be minimised or prohibited.

Each country has the freedom to decide how to apply the new regulations. Malta has since said it will ban glyphosate, while France announced in June that it was pulling 132 products containing POE-tallowamine from the market.

The Chemicals Regulations Directorate (CRD) told Horticulture Week it is still discussing how the new regulations will be implemented and "no decisions have been made as yet". But Monsanto spokesman Gary Philpotts said given that the recommendations, apart from the POE-tallowamine ban, are already referred to in the Sustainable Use Directive: "My understanding is that CRD will simply apply the EU legislation and no more."

POE-tallowamine is an "adjuvant" that works by reducing the surface tension of water and improving spray coverage. However, its use has waned as many alternatives such as water conditioners now offer better coverage and are less expensive. The European Food Safety Authority said last year that the use of POE-tallowamine in glyphosate-based products may be the real culprit in studies that appear to show glyphosate is harmful.

Crop Protection Association spokesman Adam Speed said: "Most manufacturers have already moved away from using this co-formulant. Any formulations that still contain it will be phased out in the coming months."

The recommendation to "reinforce scrutiny" of pre-harvest use of glyphosate is also up to each member state to implement, he added. "As all pre-harvest uses authorised in the UK are consistent with good agricultural practice, there is no need for UK farmers to change their approach. Also, pre-harvest use on wheat in the UK is relatively low. For example, according to the Defra pesticide usage survey, in 2012 only 2.2 per cent of the total wheat area received a pre-harvest treatment. In 2014 (survey carried out every two years) it was 6.8 per cent."

Meanwhile, anti-glyphosate activists, rather than waiting for a top-down law change, continue campaigning at a local level for a ban. The Soil Association is calling for an end to the use of glyphosate as a pre-harvest desiccant, while according to the Pesticide Action Network (PAN), Brighton & Hove, Bristol, Glastonbury, Hammersmith & Fulham, Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Somerset are among UK local authorities trialling non-pesticide methods or phasing out glyphosate altogether after local pressure.

"Glyphosate, and other chemical weedkillers, have been linked to a raft of serious health problems from birth defects to cancers. There is no place for these dangerous chemicals in urban areas in particular, especially when safer, effective alternatives exist," said PAN UK director Dr Keith Tyrell. "Some authorities have already listened to their people and taken steps to restrict the use of glyphosate. Public opposition to its continued use is growing, so the direction of travel is obvious - its days are numbered."

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