PAN Europe released a new report Thursday in collaboration with the European Greens, which shows that much safer non-chemical alternatives exist for all known major uses of glyphosate-based herbicides (GBH) and how the transition to a glyphosate-free agriculture is economically feasible.
This year the EU will decide on the re-approval of glyphosate, the active ingredient of the most popular and controversial weed killer around the world. Exposure to the herbicide not only poses a risk to human health and a variety of living organisms but it also threatens biodiversity and the future of agriculture. European Citizens have already demanded its ban.
Conventional and GMO agricultural systems are currently almost completely dependent on the use of herbicides, including glyphosate. In 2017, glyphosate represented 33% of the total herbicide market in the EU.
While the agroindustry sector claims there are no viable alternatives, the new edition of the PAN Europe report shows that ending glyphosate is not only necessary but entirely possible. Following an extended 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 major uses of glyphosate as well as data on the economics of phasing out glyphosate.
Gergely Simon, chemical officer at PAN Europe said: “Science is clear; glyphosate damages ecosystems including pollinators and beneficial insects, earthworms, soil biota, and causes direct harm to agriculture. Our report on available alternatives to glyphosate delivers a clear message, in fact, there are zero obstacles in banning this harmful chemical substance.”
Weed management, however, is one of the major challenges in agriculture, particularly in arable and vegetable cropping systems but there are other solutions to glyphosate. Dr. Charles Merfield, a world-leading expert in non-chemical weed management and main author of the report says “Managing weeds without the agrichemical herbicides is entirely feasible. Organic farmers and growers have been doing this for over 70 years! Scientists and machinery companies have built up a huge amount of experience, expertise, science, and have developed techniques and many machines for non-chemical weed management.”
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As the report shows there are both low and high-tech safer alternatives to glyphosate in weed management. In this way, farmers may maintain their yields, avoid weeds building resistance, protect soil health and biodiversity, and minimize erosion. In parallel, they protect their own health and that of their families and neighbors, as well as the environment. The report reads as a ‘cookbook’ for working without glyphosate.
The new paper is very timely as EU policymakers are negotiating to cut down pesticide use and risk in half. “Our policy-makers must stand by their commitment to reducing pesticide dependency. Without eliminating glyphosate Europe cannot fulfil EU’s 50% pesticide reduction targets by 2030 set by the European Green Deal and in the Farm to Fork strategy,” added Gergely Simon.
Such a transition requires commitments by policymakers but also by farmers, and should be seen as an opportunity. “Shifting to non-chemical weed management requires changes to the wider farm system, principally diversification, such as a wider 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) in the environment, cleaner water and air, and so on. Moving from herbicide-dominated weed management to integrated weed management focused on non-chemical techniques is not therefore a risk, rather it is a huge opportunity to improve all aspects of farm systems including profitability,” Dr. Merfield concluded.