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Farmers back decision to ban Roundup spray

Pictured from left, Claire Jessey, plant protection officer at the Department of Environmental Protection, Dr Jonathan Nisbett, government veterinarian, Environment Minister Jeanne Atherden, Terry-Lynn Thompson, senior plant officer for the Department of Environmental Protection, and David Kendell, director of environmental health (Photo by Sarah Lagan)

Members of the farming community have supported Government’s decision to ban the importation of the weed spray Roundup amid fears that it can cause cancer in humans.

Both Tom Wadson and Carlos Amaral agreed that banning the spray, which contains the active ingredient glyphosate, would not have a significant effect on Bermudian agriculture as alternatives can easily be used.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer, the specialised cancer agency of the World Health Organisation, asked a group of experts to spend a year examining the data from peer-reviewed studies about glyphosate. The research found that the herbicide, along with two other insecticides, was classified as “probably carcinogenic to humans” — a description used when there is limited evidence of cancer-causing effects on humans, yet sufficient evidence of it in animals.

Mr Wadson of Wadson’s Farm told The Royal Gazette: “I think it is a great thing and Government should be commended for it. Nobody seems to know how much of this stuff is getting sprayed along the roadsides in Bermuda and where it all goes.

“There are other ways to do this — my main concern has always been with what this is doing to animals. Clearly it ties up heavy metals in the soil and it is having massive implications with reproduction in animals and now they have discovered that it may be carcinogenic.

“We use very limited amounts — I have about of a gallon of it around here — I used it in the past but now it’s something we use for special things like poisoned ivy and stuff that nothing else seems to touch.

“There are alternatives that use less toxic substances — there are organic herbicides now — we use one called Axxe. It works. All the road side weeds could be killed with hot salt water or fire.”

Owner and manager of Amaral Farms, Mr Amaral said: “From a farming perspective a lot of people have the misconception that it is used here in Bermuda like it is in the States where they use genetically modified crops.

“We as farmers here in Bermuda do not grow any genetically modified crops or any round-up ready crops so it is not a concern for us from that standpoint.”

Mr AmaraI said the landscaping outfits and golf-courses might be more affected.

Kevin Horsefield of Horsefield Landscaping described Roundup as “an essential evil” but added that he would be happy to see it banned.

He told us: “We use it for localised weed killing and paving primarily. We try to avoid using it but we do very occasionally use it I have to say. The active ingredient is two per cent — it is very minimal but it is very effective. We use it very carefully and our staff are fully qualified.

“We could do without it. I noticed the Parks Department use it along the edge of the road quite often. It kills everything. It is not very selective.

“One thing we have used is a blow torch which actually works and it is more environmentally friendly but not as easy. I would be very happy to see it banned.”

In light of the study, Bermuda will suspend all importation of glyphosate products pending the continuing assessment of the research.

Orders placed before yesterday will be honoured and there will be a grace period until May 25 during which importers can apply to the Department of Environmental Protection to bring in small quantities of Roundup in low concentration. A toxicologist in the Department of Health will also collaborate with the Bermuda Government’s hydrogeologist to conduct a study to determine whether any breakdown products of glyphosate are found in the ground and inshore waters.

Members of the public wishing to dispose of Roundup may contact the Department of Works and Engineering.

• For more information regarding alternative herbicides, the Plant Protection Laboratory in the Department of Environmental Protection may be contacted on 239-2321.