A US federal judge ruled hundreds of lawsuits against Monsanto Co by cancer survivors or families of those who died to hear the cases that blame the company’s glyphosate-containing weed-killer for the disease.
Now, Monsanto, which makes Roundup, has been ordered by US Superior Court to pay $440 million in damages to a Californian man who claimed herbicides containing glyphosate had caused his cancer.
Glyphosate is the most widely used herbicide in the world, including in New Zealand. It kills a wide range of weeds that can affect production on farms, orchards and gardens if left unchecked. The herbicide is used in about 90 products, with Roundup being the most recognised brand.
Countries across Europe have banned the weed-killer and the World Health Organisation has ranked glyphosate as a carcinogen and a probable cause of cancer. The European Parliament wants glyphosate to be phased out over the next five years.
Despite this, in 2016, New Zealand’s Environmental Protection Agency cleared glyphosate of serious health risks, in part defending it on economic grounds. In March, a team of mainly Wellington scientists published a report calling for the EPA’s stance to be reviewed and a partial ban on glyphosate to be introduced.
Others, including the Green Party, have also argued that the EPA’s conclusion was based on flawed science and data provided by the chemical industry.
The New Zealand Soil and Health Association has called for an immediate ban on glyphosate use and for increased government support for research into non-chemical alternatives.
The recent US court case has prompted Associate Environment Minister, Eugenie Sage, to ask the Environmental Protection Authority to consider putting glyphosate on its list of hazardous substances.
It may only be a matter of time before a ban on glyphosate occurs in New Zealand. Coupled with the proliferation of glyphosate-resistant weeds, growers are increasingly needing to find additional or alternative management tools to achieve adequate weed control. So what can horticulturists and viticulturists do to replace glyphosate use?
One study, has shown that we already have all the tools necessary to gradually start building a pesticide-free agricultural model and that weed control is possible using other means than harmful herbicides. These methods are capable of maintaining a high agricultural yield, avoiding resistant species, protecting soil biodiversity and preventing erosion.
Crop rotation, cover cropping, mixed cropping and undersowing are various methods which can suppress weed growth. One popular method, used in some 70 countries, is soil. Studies into biological weed control, through the use of living organisms, such as insects, nematodes, bacteria, or fungi, are ongoing.
Sheep grazing can be beneficial in vineyards not just for removing the weeds and machine-mowed grass and canopies, but have the corollary benefit of providing dung as fertiliser. Non-synthetic herbicides such as acetic acid, citric acid and clove oil also have great potential for controlling weeds.solarisation, which uses plastic sheeting and the heat of the sun to exterminate weeds. Mechanical weed control can include flame weeding and steaming.
Mulching with bark chips or fines can help reduce weed infestation and will also protect and enhance the productivity of the soil, as well as promoting water conservation, by limiting evaporation. One study, has shown mulching controlled the presence of weeds as well as, or better than, the application of glyphosate.
Covering the soil with an extra layer of organic matter can smother and inhibit weeds, as well as prevent new seeds from germinating. A layer of organic mulch will adjust the temperature of soil, insulating against cold or heat and will also reduce the spread of plant disease.
Wholesale Landscapes’ range of bark fines and mulches provides great choices for weed suppression. Viticulture Fines, a specialist product designed for commercial applications is an aged bark, proven for its ability to promote soil moisture retention and weed suppression. This is a perfect bark medium for mixing with additional products to spread under vines. Viticulture Fines provides an improved foundation for increased microbial activity in the soil. Also adding to soil’s carbon content, Viticulture Fines is great to mix in with grape marc and other nitrate-rich inputs. This product is 100% organic-compliant and is a cost-effective soil conditioner to apply to any crop-producing land.