There’s a news article in the paper this week (page 18) detailing a study on the prevalence of glyphosate among the human population in Ireland. It shows that one in four people urine-sampled exhibited traces at relatively low levels, only 3% of what the EU classifies as a safe level, but that hasn’t stopped those campaigning for a blanket ban on glyphosate usage in the EU from seizing on it.
MEP Grace O’Sullivan said that the Greens are the leading force in the EU’s parliament “for tackling the limitless sale of glyphosate”. “This year, we can end it for good,” she added.
How do farmers counter that, accepting that there is no alternative universal herbicide? No-till and min-till tillage is being encouraged as a low-carbon system, and glyphosate is pivotal.
Well, that all depends on what is meant by “limitless sale”. If that usage targeted for tackling is glyphosate purchased in garden centres and used on garden paths rather than a little weeding, should we fight that battle? Hardly.
Half of all glyphosate used is for amenity – non-farming purposes, so we could have a large reduction in usage without impacting on farming.
The harder questions surround what is necessary and what is appropriate in the light of glyphosate presenting in people’s bodies, including children, on a routine basis.
Do we need to use glyphosate as a pre-harvest ripener or weedkiller?
And do we need to have the last nozzle next to the hedge turned off?
Research is showing that glyphosate is impacting on bees, so we should minimise the possibility of it getting into hedges. Nozzle selection and assessment of wind speeds matter.
And what about spraying under and behind electric fences. Is that essential? Is every farmer using glyphosate a trained and certified professional user? If not, why not?
The glyphosate issue is part of a wider endless conversation around what farmers are permitted to do. And we need to help ourselves, by not living down to the portrayal by farming’s harshest critics’ depiction of us.
Last week, we carried a warning from Tim Cullinan to the South Tipperary IFA AGM that the closed season for slurry must be observed. He accepted that more storage is required, and called for Government support to build that extra capacity. That is leadership from the IFA president.
Two high-profile incidents in the last week, the court case where a farmer shot two swans, and the poisoning of a white-tailed eagle with a banned pesticide, don’t paint farming in a great light but there will always be isolated cases.
But the wider truth is that, as farmers, we all make decisions every day that have consequences for the natural world.
We need to be very conscious of our need to protect the freedoms we have, because they are under threat.