Mark Whitehead 10 July 2019

A war on pesticides?

Bury Council has been the latest authority to call for an immediate halt to the use of weedkillers containing a controversial chemical in the city's play areas.

It was prompted after protests by parents worried about the effect on their children's health after reports that glyphosate is carcinogenic.

In the US courts couple were recently awarded $2bn after successfully arguing that Roundup, the weedkiller at the centre of the dispute, caused their cancer.

Bayer, the German pharmaceuticals giant that bought US-based Monsanto, which launched Roundup in 1974, is appealing the ruling, saying the evidence does not support the claim. Environmental campaigners in the UK have urged councils to ban the use of Roundup.

Glastonbury was the first to do so, while others including Hammersmith and Fulham in West London have followed.

The Pesticides Action Network says at least 40 UK local authorities have so far banned its use altogether or in part.

Campaigners are encouraged by the Government's 25-year plan A Green Future, published early last year, which promised action on a wide range of issues including the use of herbicides, but say there is no sign of any action so far.

The debate is raging throughout the world, but it could be several years – if ever – before UK councils find alternatives to the chemical to freshen up their green spaces.

Last summer Dorset County Council launched a six-week 'war on weeds', spraying the whole county with 'the latest glyphosate-based product'.

The only response to the online announcement was a resident's complaint that only one side of their road had been sprayed.

The Amenity Forum, an industry-led group promoting 'best practice' says if chemicals are used properly they can offer effective solutions to the problem of unsightly weeds which can damage roads and buildings.

It says Roundup is subjected to extensive analysis in the UK – 'probably the most comprehensive in the world and certainly greater than for many household products.'

Further, the forum warns, deciding not to use chemicals is expensive. A research study in Kent said it might cost up to eight times more, while research by Oxford Economics warned it could add £228m to the UK’s council tax bill each year.

The debate goes back some time. A review by the European Food Standards Agency in 2015 concluded that glyphosate was 'probably' not carcinogenic. This was followed by a huge public debate over the 'Monsanto papers' amid accusations over the research methods involved.

The same year the World Health Organisation’s International Agency for Research on Cancer concluded that glyphosate was 'probably carcinogenic to humans'.

In the latest developments campaigners won a victory when the European General Court overturned EFSA's refusal to publish its research on grounds of commercial confidentiality.

Bayer dismissed the research as 'flawed' and lacking evidence, but it is now facing a barrage of claims in the US from people saying it caused their cancer.

The company is sticking to its guns. Liam Condon, president of its crop science division told a recent conference: 'The key point is from a regulatory point of view, nothing has changed. We just need to get this litigation sorted out and move on.'

Moving on may be difficult, however. In February scientists in the US found exposure to glyphosate increased the risk of non-hodgkin lymphoma – a type of cancer – by 41%.

The debate is likely to continue raging. Industry argues glyphosate-based weedkillers help maintain a healthy and pleasant environment and there is no evidence they cause cancer, while campaigners point to research saying otherwise and argue there are better ways to control weeds.

The true arbiters may turn out to be the citizens of places like Bury – concerned parents concerned about their children's health – or Dorset, where they may decide a disputed risk is worth it for the sake of nicer looking verges.

This feature first appeared in Local Government News magazine

The Carer’s Allowance scandal image

The Carer’s Allowance scandal

Government has a choice, says Kirsty McHugh of Carers Trust: continue to rely on the unpaid labour of millions or take action to give a fairer deal to carers.
The new Centre for Young Lives image

The new Centre for Young Lives

Anne Longfield CBE, the chair of the Commission on Young Lives, discusses the launch of the Centre for Young Lives this month.
SIGN UP
For your free daily news bulletin
Highways jobs

Heavy Goods Vehicle / Light Vehicle Mechanic

Derbyshire County Council
£14.26 - £15.25 per hour – (2024/25 pay award pending) plus market leading package (see below)
You will need to be suitably experienced, hold a minimum of an NVQ Level 2 (or equivalent) vocational County Transport – Brimington Workshops
Recuriter: Derbyshire County Council

Traffic Installation Technician

Telent
Competitive
Traffic Installation TechnicianWhen you join our Engineering Team at Telent, you'll be empowered to innovate and drive common solutions, working close England, West Yorkshire, Leeds
Recuriter: Telent

Enterprise Architect

West Northamptonshire Council
£63510 - £66561
We are looking for an Enterprise Architect to act as the vital link between our business teams to understand what we need to do, our technology teams to drive the right strategic technology decisions for the Council and our Transformation teams to make th Northampton
Recuriter: West Northamptonshire Council

Senior Temporary Accommodation Officer

Chelmsford City Council
£37,899 to £41,562 per annum
The Council’s Strategic Housing Service is looking to recruit a Senior Temporary Accommodation Officer Chelmsford, Essex
Recuriter: Chelmsford City Council

Civil Enforcement Officer

Chelmsford City Council
£24,591 to £26,007 per annum
The Council-run South Essex Parking Partnership (SEPP) led by Chelmsford City Council. Chelmsford, Essex
Recuriter: Chelmsford City Council
Linkedin Banner

Partner Content

Circular highways is a necessity not an aspiration – and it’s within our grasp

Shell is helping power the journey towards a circular paving industry with Shell Bitumen LT R, a new product for roads that uses plastics destined for landfill as part of the additives to make the bitumen.

Support from Effective Energy Group for Local Authorities to Deliver £430m Sustainable Warmth Funded Energy Efficiency Projects

Effective Energy Group is now offering its support to the 40 Local Authorities who have received a share of the £430m to deliver their projects on the ground by surveying properties and installing measures.

Pay.UK – the next step in Bacs’ evolution

Dougie Belmore explains how one of the main interfaces between you and Bacs is about to change.