Two sides still divided over glyphosate after risk assessment report

National Farmers' Union (NFU) vice president Guy Smith.

National Farmers' Union (NFU) vice president Guy Smith. - Credit: Simon Hadley

A campaign group has called for “practical alternatives” to a controversial weed-killer to be developed, despite a European body concluding that it should not be classed as a substance causing cancer.

Peter Melchett, policy director at the Soil Association

Peter Melchett, policy director at the Soil Association - Credit: Archant

Farmers’ leaders and the agrochemical sector this week welcomed the decision about glyphosate by the European Chemical Agency (ECHA).

ECHA’s Committee for Risk Assessment (RAC) concluded that “the available scientific evidence did not meet the criteria to classify glyphosate as a carcinogen, as a mutagen or as toxic for reproduction”.

But Soil Association policy director Peter Melchett said: “The ECHA’s view contradicts the position of the World Health Organisation’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), which classified glyphosate as a ‘probable carcinogen’ in 2015.”

He argued that ECHA had only reviewed evidence on glyphosate “in isolation, rather than as it is used” and said it was “not clear” why it had reached a different conclusion to IARC.

Crop Protection Association (CPA) chief executive Sarah Mukherjee.

Crop Protection Association (CPA) chief executive Sarah Mukherjee. - Credit: Archant

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“While the debate on links between glyphosate and cancer will continue, the ECHA’s opinion doesn’t change the pressing need to develop even more practical alternatives for those farmers who currently rely on it,” he said.

The National Farmers’ Union (NFU) welcomed the ECHA conclusions and said the chemical played a “vital role” in agriculture in the UK.

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NFU vice president Guy Smith: “The overwhelming weight of evidence shows that glyphosate poses no risk to human health when used correctly. This opinion is shared by regulatory bodies around the world, including the World Health Organisation, the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the UN and the European Food Safety Authority.

“Glyphosate plays a vital role in agriculture in the UK and around the world. It reduces the need to use other herbicides, it helps to protect soil and cut greenhouse gas emissions by reducing the need for ploughing.”

Crop Protection Association chief executive Sarah Mukherjee insisted it was safe.

“This ruling is another reminder this debate has never really been about safety, it has been hijacked and politicised to force a wider debate on modern agriculture. It’s right that we’re having that debate, but it’s wrong to use health scares to get there.”

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