When I began this article I actually knew nothing of the pesticide glyphosate. I had never heard of it and truthfully, it wasn’t something that bothered me much. However, as I began to research and look into this I had a very rude awakening in just how toxic and dangerous this product is. The bottom line is that it was introduced in the 1970’s as a substance to remove the build-up of calcium in pipes, so you can imagine how bad this substance is going to be if sprayed on our food, plants, and wildlife and ultimately inhaled by people and pets.
Glyphosate is the most commonly used pesticide in the world. Why? Simple. It is easy to use and cheap to buy. If you are now wondering what its effects are when sprayed on grass verges, then think about the burnt out and toxic looking yellow weeds keeled over dead on the side of the road or near children’s playground. Chances are they have been sprayed with glyphosate.
Councils right across our country, including ours use glyphosate.
A statement from Havering Council on the use of glyphosate said: “Havering Council currently use Glyphosate pesticides to control weed growth on the highways and council land. The use of Glyphosate for weed spraying is common amongst local authorities in the UK and considered a safe practice throughout Europe. The product we use is a ‘clean label’ product and doesn’t carry a COSHH (Control of Substances Hazardous to Health) health warning.
“Alternative products have been considered and trialled, but these are too expensive and ineffective on highways.”
In a recent ruling by the European Commission, glyphosate was deemed acceptable to use but only as a ‘last term’ resort. Clearly that last line has been missed as it is vastly and widely used across the country.
Switzerland has banned the use of this pesticide and Paris has gone pesticide-free. Hammersmith and Fulham were the first London borough to ban the use of glyphosate and become a pesticide-free borough. Hackney has since joined and Lewisham is looking to also ditch the toxic pesticides and be biodiversity conscious.
If you are asking yourself but what exactly does this substance do that makes it so bad, here are a few facts for you.
Firstly, let’s remember that it was used as a pipe cleaner in the 1970’s, which already demonstrates its toxic properties. If that doesn’t shock you then in the United States this May, a Federal appeal court upheld a $25 million judgement and trial verdict finding that glyphosate under the brand name ‘Roundup’ caused a California resident’s non-Hodgkinson lymphoma.
Certain studies and courts are now suggesting that glyphosate may be linked to cancer. Others suggest there’s no link. The International Agency for Research on Cancer categorises glyphosate as a probable carcinogen for humans.
What is also extremely worrying is the fact that some farmers are believed to be using this pesticide to spray on our fruit and vegetables and even oats and wheat. So the chances of us not only inhaling it but also ingesting it are high.
Ian, Havering’s Co-ordinator from Friends of the Earth told me: “The public have the right to be aware of the damage these pesticides are doing to the earth. We need to educate people on our wildflowers and just how important and vital they are for our planet”.
Ian has been campaigning for at least four years to stop the use of pesticides here in Havering and recently a petition was launched to make the borough pesticide-free.
Ian continued: “Once it is sprayed, it stays in our soil. We are in the middle of a bio diversity crisis. Our bees and other pollinators are rapidly declining. The public would be alarmed if they knew just how toxic glyphosate is and how long it has been around.”
Ultimately wildflowers are still flowers and just as important to our ecosystem, if not more so for they are often vital for our bees and other wildlife.
Emma from the ‘Pesticide Free London’ campaign said: “These herbicides have very negative impacts on our children. They can increase asthma as they are often sprayed on pavements near school playgrounds.
“Glyphosate really can be a killer. The impact it has on our earth is huge, for our wildlife, for our soil, for our pets. It is a very far reaching chemical that is very toxic.
“I am disappointed to hear that some councils aren’t considering other alternatives. We are happy to work with them and show them cost-effective alternatives.”
A spokesperson for Pesticide-Free Havering said: “We see absolutely no reason why we are still spraying toxic chemicals designed to kill living things, all over our borough, when research and science has proven how dangerous they are for us, for wildlife and for our soil. We all know how toxic these chemicals are, yet as usual, nobody is taking responsibility for damaging the environment around us.
“Hackney (2017) and Hammersmith & Fulham are two boroughs who have successfully already decided to either go pesticide-free or taken steps to ban the use in their borough. This isn’t rocket science for them.
“The EU narrowly voted to relicense glyphosate in 2017, It was relicensed with the specific conditions “Minimise the use in public spaces, such as parks, public playgrounds and gardens”. This seems to have been missed by the UK. However, glyphosate has caused concern in many countries and many have taken steps to reduce or ban glyphosate. These countries include Germany, France, Austria and Italy.
“I strongly believe that if the Council were to simply mark out wildflower spots and show the community why they are leaving them there (so that our borough isn’t coated in toxins), people would be on board and get behind the Council doing something positive for its residents and our environment.
“Havering Council has already been made aware of the website PAN UK which provides local authorities with facts and figures relating to pesticide use: the consequences of using pesticides, in particular glyphosate, how dangerous they are especially to children and the elderly, how they kill other wildlife and damage the soil, and especially how dangerous they are to the operators of the sprays (of whom wear no masks). However, they have decided to turn the other cheek, and so we have decided to raise this petition and formally send a letter to the Council asking them to stop using pesticides in our Borough.
“Let us choose an alternative for Havering (of which there are many), let residents ‘adopt’ trees like in other Boroughs where the community is part of looking after its environment, let places grow wild to re-establish homes for wildlife, or perhaps manual methods with the cost-saving from not having to purchase toxic pesticides anymore. There are many options available.”
To end this journey into the use of glyphosate, it is worthwhile noting that in 2019 the World Health Organisation’s International Agency for Research on Cancer, did identify glyphosate as a probable human carcinogen.