PAN report finds “no obstacles” to banning glyphosate as alternatives exist for all agricultural uses
13 Mar 2023 --- Later this year, the EU will decide whether to re-approve glyphosate, the active ingredient of the controversial weed killer Roundup. Ahead of this, Pesticide Action Network (PAN) Europe’s new report shows that non-chemical alternatives exist for all known major uses of glyphosate-based herbicides (GBH), while demonstrating how the transition to glyphosate-free agriculture is economically feasible.
This report outlines the wide range of non-chemical alternatives to herbicides already available and used by organic farmers who are managing weeds.
It highlights the critical need for mainstream farmers and growers to make much wider use of these tools and the need to expand and improve current non-chemical tools, while also developing novel approaches.
Exposure to herbicides poses a risk to human health and a variety of living organisms and threatens biodiversity and the future of agriculture. European Citizens have already demanded its ban.
“There is a widespread misbelief that herbicides are safe for human health and have little environmental impact,” states PAN. “Based on this misbelief, mainstream agricultural systems are now almost entirely dependent on the use of herbicides, including glyphosate.”
In 2017, glyphosate represented 33% of the total herbicide market in the EU.
Viable alternatives are “entirely possible”
Weed management, however, remains one of the most significant challenges in agriculture, particularly in arable and vegetable cropping systems. A recent study found that the proliferation of glyphosate use might be putting pollinators at risk via contaminated wildflower nectar.
Last November, a proposal by the EU executive branch to prolong glyphosate use across the bloc countries for a year was rejected. PAN has criticized the EC’s “continuous extensions” of pesticides and herbicide approvals when its report revealed a 53% increase in hazardous pesticide use in the EU in the last nine years.
While the agroindustry sector claims there are no viable alternatives to glyphosate, the new edition of the PAN Europe report, in collaboration with the European Greens, shows that ending its use is not only necessary but “entirely possible.”
Following a comprehensive review of the negative impacts of glyphosate on living organisms and ecosystems in general, the report presents the available alternative methods for weed management for all practical uses of glyphosate and data on the economics of phasing out glyphosate.
“Science is clear; glyphosate damages the ecosystems, including pollinators and beneficial insects, earthworms and soil biota, and causes direct harm to agriculture. Our report on available alternatives to glyphosate delivers a clear message there are zero obstacles in banning this harmful chemical substance,” explains Gergely Simon, chemical officer at PAN Europe.
Dr. Charles Merfield, an expert in non-chemical weed management and main author of the report, reiterates: “Managing weeds without the agrichemical herbicides is entirely feasible. Scientists and machinery companies have built up experience, expertise, science and have developed techniques and many machines for non-chemical weed management.”
Safer alternatives out there
As the report shows, there are both low and high-tech safer alternatives to glyphosate in weed management. Farmers may maintain their yields, avoid weeds building resistance, protect soil health and biodiversity, and minimize erosion. In parallel, they preserve their own health, that of their families and neighbors, and the environment.
The annex reads as a “cookbook” for working without glyphosate. Its publication arrives timely as EU policymakers negotiate to cut down pesticide use and risk in half. “Our policymakers must stand by their commitment to reducing pesticide dependency,” says PAN.
“Without eliminating glyphosate Europe cannot fulfill EU’s 50% pesticide reduction targets by 2030 set by the European Green Deal and in the Farm to Fork strategy,” adds Simon.
Such a transition requires commitments by policymakers and farmers and should be seen as an opportunity.
According to Merfield, shifting to non-chemical weed management requires changes to the broader farm system, principally diversification, such as a broader range of crops and livestock in a rotation.
“This will have multiple benefits for the farm and shared environment, e.g., soil health, biodiversity, fewer novel entities (such as agrichemicals), cleaner water and air, and so on,” he remarks.
“Moving from herbicide-dominated weed management to integrated weed management focused on non-chemical techniques is not a risk. Rather, it is a huge opportunity to improve all aspects of farm systems, including profitability,” he underscores.
Edited by Elizabeth Green
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