Back in March 2016 I publicly expressed my stance on glyphosate, otherwise known as ‘Roundup’, and its perceived danger by a minority with uninformed views.
More than two years on, it is concerning to note emotion-charged campaigns are on the rise again, jeopardising the livelihood of farmers right across the country.
Glyphosate, first patented by Monsanto more than four decades ago, is a safe and convenient agronomic tool for managing weeds, and one of the most commonly used farm chemicals in Australia.
Australian conditions and the use of glyphosate is a match made in heaven. Using this chemical allows farmers to conserve moisture in our long hot summers without the need for cultivation. Its environmental benefits are enormous.
The ongoing drought continues to challenge even the best-prepared farmers, but I can guarantee if farmers were still using the same methods of cultivation from years gone by, their daily reality would be hugely different in dry seasons.
Through the use of glyphosate, farmers are able to practise minimum tillage – a step away from the more invasive cultivation practices of past times. Minimum tillage protects soil structure, moisture and nutrients, and ultimately increases the storage of soil carbon.
This chemical enables farmers to spray weeds and not disturb the soil. Put simply, it has truly revolutionised the way crops are grown in Australia.
My brothers and I were actively involved in trials using glyphosate in the early 1980s. In my 25 years using the chemical, I saw a huge change in the health of the soil on my property, including the return of micro and macro organisms like the common earthworm. We were also able to retain important topsoil that would otherwise be lost.
A report by the International Agency for Research and Cancer (IARC), an agency of the World Health Organization (WHO), states that glyphosate is “probably carcinogenic to humans”. I note that the IARC list of substances and activities that are probably carcinogenic to humans also includes things such as burning wood in fireplaces, working overnight shifts and working as a hairdresser.
To add some more perspective, salt is more dangerous than glyphosate.
Glyphosate has been extensively and independently risk assessed by regulators in Australia as well as the USA, Canada and Europe and found to be safe. In fact, no regulatory agency in the world considers it to be carcinogenic.
In more than 10 years as an MP, I have noticed a collective move away from accepting scientific, peer reviewed assessments of risk, to baseless theories and misinformation.
International green groups and their local affiliates will continue to facilitate a push for the banning of this important farm chemical. This has more to do with a campaign against Monsanto than any real concerns around safety.
Nevertheless the profitability of multinational chemical companies is not my priority. Rather, it is the continued viability of farmers who already operate with a myriad of challenges on a daily basis.
I have grave concerns for farmers right across my electorate, and indeed Australia, should a movement grow to ban glyphosate. It’s worth noting that the alternative would include replacement herbicides that are far more toxic.
Recently I heard from a farmer near Coonabarabran who expressed his support for glyphosate, explaining that the chemical is instrumental to his business and the effective management of his farm. That farmer does not stand alone.
If Aussie farmers are to continue to be the efficient, innovative and productive operators they are today, glyphosate must play a leading part.
I stand for glyphosate and for farmers right around Australia.
- Mark Coulton is the Assistant Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment, and Member for the Parkes electorate