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Fears over relaxing weedkiller ban

The overgrown roadside at Marsh Folly Road (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

Environmentalists have expressed concern over the Government’s plan to relax the importation ban on herbicides containing glyphosate.

On Friday, Lieutenant-Colonel David Burch, the Minister of Public Works announced that his ministry would be granted a licence by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources to import restricted concentrated forms of glyphosate herbicide to tackle overgrown roadsides.

Colonel Burch told MPs the licence would be granted only after an integrated vegetation management plan had been completed, and he stated the public importation ban on concentrated glyphosate-based herbicides would continue. But farmer Tom Wadson told The Royal Gazette he was “dead against” the move and insisted there were “ample and adequate alternatives” to the controversial herbicide”.

Mr Wadson said: “The science behind glyphosate is flawed, and the local research that has been done is totally inadequate.”

He added: “This stuff is lethal and has been linked to many modern diseases.

“The alternatives, which include Finale and Axxe — an organic substance we have been using with excellent results — would work out cheaper in the long run.

“Bringing it back is completely unnecessary and the effects of the run off would make organic farming in Bermuda just impossible. I am not against roadside spraying; there are simply better alternatives, so this is a worrying development.”

In December 2016 a government report recommended the ban on the glyphosate weedkiller Rodeo should be lifted, claiming there were no significant adverse health effects from the chemical’s use.

A month later Cole Simons, the former environment minister, told a packed public meeting the ban would not be lifted.

Last week Mr Burch described the IVM plan as “the most efficient control plan customised to local conditions” saying its implementation, which has already begun, had potentially significant cost savings. He added: Considerable research and monitoring has occurred both locally and internationally to support the use of glyphosate herbicide with certain conditions and monitoring and those conditions will be met.”

But Jonathan Starling, executive director of Greenrock, pointed to short comings in the local study. He said: “We take note of the minister’s statement about the limited importation of glyphosate-based herbicides for assisting with roadside vegetation control.

“We are studying this statement and acknowledge it is with the condition that an Integrated Vegetation Management plan is completed.

“We are aware of the study previously conducted showing that the impact on human health of using glyphosate is minimal. Our main problem with that study was that it didn’t take a wider look at the environmental impact of glyphosate use.

“In particular there are concerns about the impact on honeybee populations; studies elsewhere have indicated that glyphosate can impair the navigational abilities of bees, adding to other existing stresses to our bee population.

“Bees are critical to local agriculture and also produce a valuable and unique Bermudian commodity that needs support. That remains our primary concern at the moment.”

Mr Burch’s new stance has found favour with some local environment groups.

Anne Hyde from Keep Bermuda Beautiful, said: “I agree that the ban on glyphosate should be relaxed to allow only those who fall into the category of trained professionals be certified to use it, and that would include Public Works staff.

“The ban should not be lifted so that it becomes available for sale to anyone.”