Government ministers should ban Roundup – not sing its praises | Natalie Bennett

Thérèse Coffey’s ill-judged tweet shows we have still work to do to rid the planet of the glyphosate

On a summer Sunday afternoon, Thérèse Coffey, parliamentary-under secretary of state at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), was, it would appear from her Twitter feed, about to do some gardening. Unremarkable, you might think. Parliament is in recess, and parliamentarians are entitled to their leisure like anyone else.

But this was political gardening, for before doing so she put out a quite remarkable message: “Getting ready to deploy the amazing Roundup!” it said, with a picture of the bright green bottle of a weedkiller by Monsanto – a multinational company with a toxic reputation (as even Bayer, which has recently taken it over, acknowledges). The tweet came just hours after a US jury gave a terminally ill retired groundskeeper $289m in damages for his non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, which it attributed to glyphosate – the active chemical in Roundup.

Why would a government minister decide to explicitly endorse a controversial, questionable product? There are no comfortable answers. Is Coffey concerned about the welfare of Bayer, after the company’s share price slid following the verdict? In which case she appears to think the welfare of Bayer is an overriding concern of the UK government. Bayer controls approximately half of the global supply of proprietary seed, more than two-thirds of the chemicals used to grow food, and most GM crop genetic traits – plus huge quantities of data on what farmers are growing where. Does Coffey think she needs to act in its interests? A government minister should really be acting in the public interest – and asking why a company pushing such a questionable product has such a stranglehold on our food supplies.

Getting ready to deploy the amazing Roundup! pic.twitter.com/i9oUScNK38

— Therese Coffey (@theresecoffey) August 12, 2018

The writing is on the wall for glyphosate. The International Agency for Research on Cancer’s report on the chemical concluded it was probably carcinogenic to humans, and the European Union came close to a ban that was backed by a petition signed by more than 1.3 million citizens – and only stopped by intense, expensive lobbying. The European parliament has called for it to be banned by 2022.

And it isn’t just the EU – other governments are reacting very differently to our own. France has said it would ban the chemical within three years. Germany has begun instituting a ban and some retailers there have pulled it from their stores. Italy has banned its use as a pre-harvest treatment.

The path of Roundup is one we have seen taken by many other poisons introduced into the food we eat, the air we breathe and the soil we depend on for life. They are introduced as a wonder. But soon a few campaigners, and ill people, start to wonder about their real effects. Public concern grows and eventually they are banned. But what is unique about glyphosate is its ubiquity, and extremely high levels of use – associated with the GM “Roundup ready” crops bred just for it – and the levels many are consuming, which are almost impossible to avoid, as Green MEPs found in tests in 2016.

The world is waking up to this danger, and the fact that we cannot continue with the industrial-scale monoculture form of agriculture with which it is associated. On one side are the people, the environmentalists and an increasing number of governments around the world. On the other side we have the giant multinational Bayer and the UK government.

Weeding out the poisons from Europe’s food and farming sector will benefit public health and the environment – and it is eminently achievable. But farmers need support in adapting to viable and affordable alternatives to chemicals, like the methods being showcased by farmers in the rapidly expanding organic sector. And with Defra ministers apparently keen to keep pushing the poison, it is questionable whether this support for farmers will be part of a post-Brexit vision for agriculture.

In 2016 the EU referendum saw many Britons saying they wanted to “take back control”. They were absolutely right to want that – we need to take back control of Westminster from the interests of a few multinational companies, and get it operating in our interests. We need to make it a democracy that works for us – not big business.

Contributor

Natalie Bennett

The GuardianTramp

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