The controversial herbicide glyphosate, widely used to control environmental weeds in Australia, is not as dangerous as some media reports imply, according to a report released today by the Invasive Species Council.
“Australians are exposed to many chemicals that pose greater risks than glyphosate but escape much scrutiny,” said Tim Low, who wrote the new report Glyphosate: A Chemical to Understand.
Glyphosate gained a bad name when the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) determined that it is probably capable of causing cancer. But their ranking put it below sunshine, alcohol, processed meats, salted fish and wood dust, all of which are definite carcinogens, according to earlier IARC reports.
American courts have awarded massive damages to people who caught cancer after extensive glyphosate exposure, but the judge presiding over one of these cases was uncertain, noting ‘credible evidence on both sides of the scientific debate’.
“Last year many countries moved to ban glyphosate, but very few bans went through, because glyphosate is safer than most alternative herbicides and often more effective,” Mr Low said.
“One alternative, diuron, is considered much worse if it washes out to the Great Barrier Reef because it is far more persistent.
“Glyphosate is the main chemical used to control environmental weeds in Australia, so a ban would have serious consequences for nature conservation.
“Non-chemical methods of control, especially steam spraying, can be used against small weeds in city parks and ovals, but they are not suitable for weed control in nature reserves and on farms because they do not kill large weeds such as shrubs and vines. And steam is dangerous to apply.
“Those using glyphosate to kill and control weed infestations should follow the directions on the label and always be careful not to inhale it or splash it on their skin.”
Newer chemicals could prove safer, but only time will tell.
The Invasive Species Council commissioned Tim Low to write the report to ensure debate on the use of glyphosate is evidence-based.
It will be sending this report, along with a recent report about the use of 1080, to all local councils in Australia.