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Should we be worried that this controversial weedkiller will be used for seven more years?

European Parliament voted yesterday to extend the use of glyphosate.

Image: AP/Press Association Images

THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT has voted to allow the use of glyphosate to continue for seven years, following a meeting in Strasbourg yesterday.

The name of the chemical may not mean much on its own, but it has been one of the most widely used pesticides in the EU over the past 40 years.

However – its use has been dogged with controversy – with debate about its potential to cause harm to humans.

So what exactly is glyphosate? And what are its implications in Ireland?

What is exactly is the issue with glyphosate? 

Glyphosate is a commonly used as a weedkiller and agricultural herbicide.

Yesterday’s approval came tempered with parliamentarians conceding that concerns remain about its potentially carcinogenic qualities.

Hence the reason they granted it a seven-year market approval, rather than the 15-year extension that had originally been on the table.

It was also suggested by parliament that all non-professional use of the substance be stopped and a full review into its potential harm be carried out by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).

In a statement yesterday the Glyphosate Task Force – which represents glyphosate producers – said that the chemical was a “key tool” in the “control of weeds and protection of crop yields”.

Its chairman Richard Garnett said that the unintended consequence of the politicisation of the debate had been a loss of perspective.

At the heart of the confusion on glyphosate are the differing opinions of two major health authorities.

The EFSA has previously said that it believes that it is unlikely the chemical causes cancer, while the World Health Organisation’s International Agency for Research on Cancer has classified it as “probably carcinogenic to humans”.

Does it matter to Irish people? 

It does.

For one thing it is used by Dublin City Council as a herbicide.

It is also a major product for Irish farmers.

Fine Gael MEP Mairead McGuinness – who voted in favour of glyphosate’s continued use – said that she had been contacted by farmers who practice conservation agriculture who said that banning the product would have a detrimental impact on the environment.

However, Sinn Féin MEP Lynn Boylan had a different view, and called for the EFSA to publish information on how it arrived at its view that glyphosate is not harmful.

“Unlike some other substances that the WHO has classified as probably carcinogenic, glyphosate is impossible to avoid. It is found in ground- and surface water, in food like bread and meat and even in beer,” she said.

Read: Potentially cancer-causing herbicide used on Dublin’s streets

Also: EU countries won’t be able to opt out from genetically-modified food

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