By Andrew Weidemann: Rupanyup, Victoria, Australia
As an Australian farmer who relies on glyphosate to grow reliable, safe, healthy food, I’m appalled at several recent legal and political decisions. Sadly, they were made in a science ‘free zone’ and have nothing to do with modern, responsible agriculture.
In the United States, a jury just awarded $289 million to a man who claims that the popular crop-protection product gave him cancer. In Brazil, a judge has forbidden farmers from using glyphosate, starting in September. In France, President Emmanuel Macron says that he wants to impose a total ban.
The unnecessary global war against glyphosate has been reignited.
My brother and I grow a variety of crops on our land in the southern state of Victoria, including wheat, canola, beans, and hay. Our high-quality barley finds its way into lots of beer, including the Crown Lager and Foster’s brands.
Both of our families live on the farm. If glyphosate posed a real hazard, we wouldn’t expose ourselves or our wives and children to the risk. Glyphosate is a safe and reliable weed control tool used on the farm and around our home gardens.
Misinformed people seem to think that farmers buy tanker-truckloads of glyphosate and soak their fields in it. Actually, we use small amounts strategically under label recommendations.
In general, we apply glyphosate at two key points. The first time is early in the season before we sow. Summer weed control is the next crucial time to conserve precious moisture rather than resorting to open tillage control methods for weeds. We follow the guidelines on the label and apply it in a safe manner.
Regulatory bodies around the world have determined that glyphosate is safe, backing up their work with hundreds of studies. The only outlier is something called the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), a European group that has a long history of making unsubstantiated claims.
A recent investigation by Reuters health and science correspondent Kate Kelland used internal documents to show that IARC even manipulates its data. The organization seems more committed to shocking the public with press releases than it does to serious research and environmental outcomes.
The value of glyphosate, however, is not merely that it isn’t bad. It is a good, safe, efficient product. It makes us better farmers who care for the environment and produce a reliable source of affordable food for consumers.
Because our region of Australia is so dry, we can’t afford to waste water. Every drop counts.
We practice no-till agriculture, which means we don’t control weeds through the old-fashioned method of plowing them under and turning over the soil – an action that causes the soil to surrender moisture. We’ve replaced plowing with glyphosate. This no-till strategy prevents soil erosion, preserves biodiversity, and reduces greenhouse-gas emissions. It’s an essential feature of sustainable agriculture.
If glyphosate were banned in Australia, it would push us backward in time, all the way to the 1980s. I mean that in every sense. We’d return to 1980s methods of weed control. We’d have to quit and go back to plowing the soil. That would be bad for the long-term health of our farm as well as bad for the environment. We’d also resort to older and harsher crop-protection products.
Moreover, under a ban our yields would drop to 1980s levels. Right now, Australians on average grow more than 40 million tonnes per year. Without access to glyphosate, this could plummet back to 25 million tonnes.
That may not sound like a lot, but it’s a big loss. The cost of food for ordinary people would rise. If the bans were spread to other countries across the globe, it could threaten the world’s food supply.
I’m hopeful that we continue to keep glyphosate and that sound science and evidence will win the day. The U.S. court case with the $289 million ruling probably will go to appeal. In Brazil, the government is urging its courts to overturn the judicial ban on glyphosate. And in France, lawmakers have resisted their president’s crusade against the product.
Andrew Weidemann farms with his wife Julie, brother Rodney and his wife Andrea in the Wimmera region in Victoria, Australia where they grow wheat, barley, canola, broad beans, chic and field peas, lentils, oaten and vetch hay along with White Suffolk prime lambs and a commercial merino wool and prime lamb operation. Andrew is a member of the Global Farmer Network (www.globalfarmernetwork.org).