A ban or restrictions on use of glyphosate is unnecessary and would add to food production costs.
It would also undermine New Zealand farmers’ environmental stewardship by removing a key tool for such practices as minimum or no-till drilling that preserve soil carbon, and would likely force use of more toxic chemicals to control weeds.
They’re the headline messages from a survey in September and October by Federated Farmers that drew 1568 responses from across the sector – dairy, sheep & beef, arable, deer, goats and smaller numbers of horticulture and viticulture growers. Some 93 percent of them reported they used glyphosate products and considered them safe if use instructions were followed.
In short, Federated Farmers members recognise glyphosate as an affordable, effective, and vital agrichemical and tool across industries without any practicable, affordable, and viable alternative options available.
Views were more divergent on the question ‘Should glyphosate be restricted to professional users only?’ Some 479 respondents (31%) said they would be comfortable if glyphosate became a ‘professional only’ product. But there was quite a bit of geographical variation on this.
Support for such a restriction was lower in the Waikato (25.7%) and Taranaki (10.9%) but much higher in Otago and Canterbury (50.4% and 41.4% respectively). Farmers in those two southern regions were also much more likely to have an Approved or Certified Handler Certificate (82.3% and 85.7% respectively compared to 65.7% for the rest of NZ) and/or a GrowSafe Certificate (59.3% and 64% respectively compared to 56.8% for the rest of NZ).
Several respondents commented that farmers and growers should be considered as professional users anyway, therefore any restriction should not impact them, likewise if any restriction were made in a “practical and sensible” manner.
Although the majority of the respondents did not think that glyphosate should become a professional user only agrichemical, there were concerns repeatedly expressed in terms of unsafe and over-use by domestic users.
Glyphosate was generally considered by respondents to be a low toxicity broad spectrum herbicide, having little impact on the soil microbiology. It breaks down quickly once applied, allowing for minimal withholding periods for returning grazing stock to treated land, compared with other products. Some 37% reported their primary reason for using glyphosate products was for no or minimum tillage planting.
Federated Farmers national board member and Arable Chair Colin Hurst said not only were glyphosate products considered more efficient and effective with targeted use than alternatives, they were also less expensive.
“Cynics might crow about farmers being more concerned with bottom lines, but food production costs are of concern to all New Zealanders – and our export markets.”
Asked about the impact of glyphosate was no longer available to them, many replied along the lines that they would “go broke” or that this would have a “massive impact” on their business and ability to produce at the current levels.
“Paraquat was mentioned as an alternative by some respondents but that mention was cast with negatives – it’s more expensive, highly toxic and less effective,” Colin said.
If access to glyphosate was blocked or restricted, many respondents mentioned environmental disbenefits, including needing to rely on cultivation and more frequent passes through pasture and crops to control unwanted plant species; both therefore having an impact on soil structure and use of diesel.
One respondent aptly summed up wider sentiment: “…[W]e would have to revert to a higher fuel use system, poorer soil structure, more winter pugging, poorer water use efficiency, more risk of soil erosion by wind blow after cultivation. A much more costly system to run with very poor environmental outcomes.”
Misleading reports, propaganda drive glyphosate negativity
The Federated Farmers survey on glyphosate was sparked by a ‘call for information’ by New Zealand’s Environmental Protection Authority (EPA). Glyphosate is currently approved for use in the European Union until 15 December 2022 but that approval is being reviewed, with a decision due mid next year.
Acknowledging ongoing public debate about the effects of glyphosate on the environment and people’s health, the EPA said its request for information from importers, manufacturers, professional users, retailers, community groups and the public is a “very first step in understanding how glyphosate is currently used in New Zealand”.
The information gathered will used to assess whether there are grounds to reassess use of the synthetic, non-selective herbicide in New Zealand. The EPA has pledged further opportunity to make submissions should it decide to pursue a formal reassessment application.
An application for reassessment of a chemical can only happen if one or more of the following are demonstrated:
• new information available about the substance’s effects; or
• a significant change in the substance’s use or amount used; or • an alternative with more benefits and fewer risks is available; or
• a consequence arising from the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015.
“We consider that none of these criteria are met,” Federated Farmers said in its submission to the EPA.
Since 2018, the EPA has screen 1,300 chemicals to establish if reassessment was necessary.
“We note that during this process the EPA found no evidence that the risk of using glyphosate, or its hazardous nature, has changed and glyphosate did not rank highly enough for inclusion on the Priority Chemical List, with a ranking of E (on a scale of A to F). This indicates that there are at least 386 substances that are higher priority to reassess, not to mention the other 265 priority E substances,” Feds said.
“We also note that the EPA actively monitors the status of glyphosate both in New Zealand and overseas and agrees with the vast majority of regulatory bodies around the world – including in the European Union, United States, Australia and Canada – that glyphosate is unlikely to cause cancer and is safe to use if the rules are followed.”
Plenty of respondents to the Feds survey expressed concern that negative public opinion around glyphosate was due to misinformation, and even unfounded propaganda.
The finding most commonly cited by glyphosate opponents is the assessment in 2015 by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) that considered glyphosate products were a “probable carcinogen”. As noted on the EPA website other things that fall under the same classification include hot drinks (over 65˚C) and acrylamide – which are the crispy burned proteins from the barbecue or chips.
Federated Farmers considers coverage and commentary on the IARC’s finding has often been misleading.
“The IARC report is not a risk assessment. It refers specifically to the chemical active and does not suggest that the use of glyphosate products according to their registered use, poses any threat. It is the type and extent of human exposure that determines the actual risk,” the Feds submission said.
“IARC classifies substances using terms such as “possibly” or “probably” carcinogenic to define the potential hazard of a substance. This has resulted in everyday products, including coffee, aloe vera and talcum powder, being categorised as ‘possibly carcinogenic’.”
The classification also contradicted conclusions of the expert body of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Health Organization (WHO) – IARC’s parent body – which found glyphosate was “unlikely to pose a carcinogenic risk to humans”.
Feds said dozens of scientific studies were also ignored – specifically genetic toxicity studies – that conclude that glyphosate is not a human health risk. Further, the more recent decision by the European Union Assessment Group on Glyphosate (AGG) summarised in its recent review of glyphosate (for renewal) that “Overall, the AGG concludes that glyphosate meets the approval criteria for human health” .
How is glyphosate used in NZ?
Glyphosate has been used in New Zealand since the 1970s. It is sold under different brand names, including Roundup.
It is used by commercial businesses, councils, and around the home. Some of the places it is used include orchards, vineyards, pastures, vegetable patches, roadways, parks, and sports grounds. It is used in the garden at home.
Glyphosate is regulated in New Zealand and there are laws around its use. Products containing glyphosate are considered safe, provided that people follow the rules. These include:
- wearing personal protective equipment, such as gloves, goggles and boots
- using sprays in calm and dry conditions
- storing and disposing of products correctly.
Source: Environmental Protection Agency