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Herbicide concerns grow

Clematis vitalba [old man’s beard], a noxious weed, smothering large areas along the railway track at Mauriceville settlement. PHOTO/FILE

A call for more information about the use of herbicide glyphosate has been made by the Environmental Protection Authority after growing public concern about its safety.

According to the authority, the weedkiller had commonly been used by home gardeners, farmers, and councils in New Zealand since the 1970s.

Although it was known as the active ingredient in Roundup, there were 89 mixtures containing glyphosate that were approved for use in New Zealand.

The agency was looking for information from industry and the general public, about the glyphosate manufacture, importation, and patterns.

EPA general manager of hazardous substances and new organisms Chris Hill said the agency wanted to understand whether products containing glyphosate may be damaging the environment or human health, despite the precise rules in place.

“We also want to know about the economic benefits of glyphosate’s use and any potential alternatives. The information gathered will be used to help inform our next steps.”

The agency also sought information on the availability of alternatives to the herbicide and any impacts on Maori.

In its draft long-term plan, Greater Wellington Regional Council said there had been objections to the use of chemicals to control pest plants and animals, particularly the use of glyphosate and 1080.

The council said it followed the rules set by the EPA, and would consider using alternatives to pesticides if there were cost-effective options.

“We use the least toxic chemical that will be effective in any given situation.”
Hill said glyphosate was approved for use in the European Union until December 2022.

The European Chemicals Agency and the European Food Safety Authority were reviewing the classification and approval of glyphosate, and would publish their conclusions next year.

He said its applications might have changed since it was approved for use.

Hill said issuing a call for information now would enable the EPA to better understand the New Zealand context by the time the EU findings were published and ensure it was better prepared to assess results.

“There has been an ongoing public debate about the effects of glyphosate on environmental and human health,” Hill said.

Hill said the agency’s position remained that glyphosate products were safe to use when all rules were followed.

He said it was in line with current regulatory opinion in Australia, Canada, the EU, and the United States.

The agency monitored international developments and reviewed global research on hazardous substances, including glyphosate.

Hill said there was no evidence risks associated with using glyphosate, or its hazardous nature, had changed.

“However, we feel the time is right for us to take another look at this substance.”

Information could be provided to the EPA until, August 27.

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