Alternatives Methods in Weed Management to the Use of Glyphosate and Other Herbicides

Alternatives to herbicide use in weed management – The case of glyphosate

Introduction

While the use of synthetic pesticides in agriculture might have helped to increase food production, this has not occurred without great costs to human health, the environment and natural resources. The 2017 UN report of the Special Rapporteur on the right to food highlights the adverse impact of pesticide use on human rights, human health (workers, their families, bystanders, residents and consumers) and the environment. The report also reveals that intensive agriculture based on pesticide use has not contributed to reduce world hunger, but rather it has helped to increase the consumption of food and food waste especially in industrialised countries.

Herbicides have been introduced in agriculture (and horticulture) mainly to combat weeds that compete with crops for nutrients and sunlight resulting in reduced crop yield and quality. Other common uses are to eradicate invasive plant species or undesirable plants for livestock farms, to assist the management of public areas, for aesthetic or practical reasons (e.g. sidewalks, pavements and railways) or for weed control in private gardens. In Europe, their use in farming has increased considerably to replace mechanical ploughing, which has been reported to cause soil degradation and soil nutrient loss, in certain geographic zones with high rainfall and specific types of crops, particularly in intensive agriculture (Derpsch, 1998).

There is an overall erroneous perception that herbicides are safe for human health and have little impact on the environment. Based on this misconception, humans have developed agricultural practices and invested in technological development that completely depends on the use of pesticides and herbicides. Many farmers have abandoned more sustainable farming techniques altogether. As a result, every day tonnes of herbicides are released into the environment and their surroundings, which not only put human health at risk, but also interfere with the biological processes of nature and the ecosystem services it offers to combat weeds and other pests naturally. Weeds become resistant, the soil get eroded and infertile, the crop susceptible to pathogens and diseases, and farmers feel obliged to use more pesticides to combat the new pests, and end up trapped in a “pesticide treadmill”.

In a similar manner to other pesticides, herbicide active ingredients are biologically active compounds. They are designed to pass through membranes and diffuse into the interior of living cells to exert the desirable toxic action (Kearney & Kaufman, 1975). Because of their properties, when these substances are used on open fields they will directly affect other non-target species in the area and the surroundings, and through a cascade of ecological interactions will end up affecting biodiversity. Furthermore, these same properties may allow them to interact with living cells of animal species including humans and result in toxicity. Herbicides can also be toxic to soil beneficial microorganisms (Grossbard & Davies, 1976) causing a decline in soil nutrients, fertility and defence systems. This has a direct impact on agriculture, where crops depend on the quality of the soil.

Their use has been so -unnecessarily- intensive that these chemicals have caused a great impact not only on soil health and agricultural production, but also to human health, the environment and its ecosystems. The present report aims to emphasise that we already have all the tools necessary to gradually start building a pesticide-free agricultural model and to confirm that weed control is possible using other means than harmful herbicides. There is an urgent need to develop technological methods of agriculture that do not depend on pesticide use. Using the popular glyphosate-based herbicides as a reference, the current analysis presents a wide variety of weed management approaches, where farmers work together – rather than against – nature and help maintain a high agricultural yield without contaminating the soil, destroying biodiversity and jeopardising human and environmental health. Since glyphosate-based herbicides are non-selective and of broad spectrum, the alternative methods presented in this report can also substitute the use of different herbicide products.

This report also covers topics such as the use of glyphosate in the EU and globally, pesticide sales in the EU, and impacts on soil behaviour and environmental safety, as well as human health.

By integrating the different available agricultural practices (e.g. preventive, agronomic and mechanical methods) with the broad knowledge we have acquired on the biological and ecological characteristics of herbs and plant crops, today farmers are capable of overcoming major agricultural challenges and manage weed growth successfully, maintaining a high agricultural yield, avoiding resistant species, protecting soil biodiversity and erosion, and reducing green-house emissions among others. This report presents and discusses the different alternative agricultural practices to herbicide use in weed control that when combined result in a sustainable weed management. This work was carried out in parallel with the project “Filming farmers across European Union on alternatives to herbicides (with specific reference to glyphosate)”, both being supported by The Greens/EFA of the EU.

More Information
  • Greens/EFA call for glyphosate-free future, greens-efa.eu, 18.10.2017.
  • A fair food and agriculture policy, A two-fold conference, greens-efa.eu, 18.10.2017.
  • Alternatives to herbicide use in weed management – The case of glyphosate, greens-efa.eu, 10.2017.

Glyphosate studies: expert opinion proves a systematic misinterpretation

Environmentalists press charges against Monsanto and EU regulatory authorities

The Munich Environmental Institute (Umweltinstitut München) and Pesticide Action Network (PAN) Germany join PAN Europe and 5 EU environmental organisations in their legal proceedings against those responsible for the assessment of glyphosate in Europe (Monsanto, German government institute –BfR – and European Food Safety Authority-EFSA).

The EU environmental organizations, in an initiative taken by Global 2000 Austria file new evidence to the state attorney in Berlin today showing that the responsible institutions misinterpreted research studies during the assessment procedure in order to conceal the carcinogenic risks associated with glyphosate and facilitate its re-approval.

Environmentalists press charges against Monsanto and EU regulatory authorities, pan-europe, April 21, 2016.

Epidemiologist Prof. Dr. Eberhard Greiser of the University of Bremen emphasizes BfR rejected almost all epidemiological studies on the carcinogenicity of glyphosate for unfounded reasons, disqualifying them as “not reliable”. According to Greiser,

“BfR applied the incorrect methods for analysing and rejecting these studies and EFSA approved them. These provide evidence that would hinder the re-approval of glyphosate.”

An earlier analysis undertaken by toxicologist Peter Clausing (PAN Germany) had already shown that studies submitted by the industry on carcinogenicity using laboratory mice had been falsely evaluated, and significant evidence of carcinogenicity in the animals had been concealed.

“Two of these mice studies on carcinogenicity were also evaluated by IARC experts who in contrast to BfR, accepted the significant incidence of tumours as relevant”

says Angeliki Lysimachou of Pesticides Action Network Europe.

In its final assessment the BfR accepted that the IARC/WHO findings were correct, and admitted to having simply adopted the statistical evaluations presented by the industry but still, both BfR and EFSA kept their conclusion that glyphosate is “non-carcinogenic”. In response, in an open letter to the EU commission 94 respected scientists criticised the BfR and EFSA’s assessment as “scientifically unacceptable”, “fundamentally flawed” and “misleading.

“The large number of weaknesses in the licensing procedure of glyphosate give the impression that the authorities and manufacturers have been working hand in hand to keep glyphosate on the EU market by all means,”

says Sophia Guttenberger, biologist and adviser on consumer protection at the Environmental Institute in Munich.

“If there has been deliberate manipulation of the new licensing procedure for glyphosate with the intention of approving a carcinogenic substance, then this would be defrauding 508 million EU citizens,”

states Viennese lawyer Dr. Josef Unterweger.

A critique on the rejection of Epidemiology studies by EU athorities, PAN Europe, 5 April 2016.

For this reason Dr. Unterweger is pressing charges on behalf of Munich Environmental Institute and the six environmental organisations: Global 2000, Pesticide Action Network (PAN) Europe, PAN Germany, PAN UK, Générations Futures (France), WeMove Europe, and Nature & Progrès Belgique. A report will also be submitted to OLAF, the European anti-fraud office.

What Chemicals lurk in UK Bread? More than you might expect…

Nearly two-thirds of the bread you eat contains pesticides residues

Nearly two-thirds of the bread you eat contains pesticides residues

PAN UK logo
Pesticide Action Network UK. Working to eliminate the dangers of toxic pesticides, our exposure to them and their presence in the environment.

A report released today by PAN UK in conjunction with the Organic. Naturally Different campaign, reveals that:

  • Nearly two-thirds (61.5%) of bread products tested by the UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs between 2000 and 2013, were contaminated with pesticides residues.
  • Figure has more than doubled over the last 12 years, rising from 28% in 2001 to 63% in 2013.
  • 17% of the samples contained traces of more than one pesticide.
  • Glyphosate – a herbicide that is increasingly linked to a variety of health issues – is the residue most often found in bread.

Sources and More Information:

  • Pesticides in Your Daily Bread: A consumer guide to pesticides in bread 2014, PAN UK, guide final, 17 July 2014
  • Nearly two-thirds of the bread you eat contains pesticides residues, PAN UK, news, 17 July 2014
  • What chemicals are lurking in your loaf? Nearly two thirds of bread products found to contain pesticide residues, DailyMail, news/article-2695224, 17 July 2014