Horticulturist calls for urgent NZ review of Roundup's safety

Kate Nicol-Williams
Source: 1News

An Upper Hutt horticulturist with 30 years’ experience using glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup, is calling for an urgent review of its safety by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Dean Munn, owner of Agricontracts, says Roundup is overused nationally in New Zealand and many contractors spray the herbicide without wearing protective gear.

“When you used to go on training courses they would say 'you can almost drink this stuff, it’s pretty safe',” he said.

It’s the product which saw manufacturer Monsanto ordered to pay $NZ439 million after a United States former school caretaker claimed it caused his cancer.

Monsanto is appealing the judgement but faces thousands of similar cases.

Auckland University Law School’s Bill Hodge said such a case wouldn’t happen in New Zealand because the Accident Compensation Corporation covers these cases as accidents.

I hope they don’t run for cover

—  Dean Munn, owner of Agricontracts

Mr Munn is calling for the EPA to re-investigate the herbicide and provide information for businesses and the general public.

“Personally I hope EPA and a few of those authorities that control air quality plans, I hope they don’t run for cover, I hope they front up and face this," he said.

“I’ve got staff, I’ve got family, we’re all interested in it and we want to know what the policy is - what’s good, what’s bad, what we can and can’t do."

The EPA said in a statement that products containing glyphosate remain safe to use when the instructions on the label are followed.

Dr Fiona Thomson-Carter stated, "There is no change to the science behind our current position."

Glyphosate is on its list for reassessment but no timeline has been stated.

Dr Thomson-Carter said the EPA will take a look at the information from the US court case when it becomes available.

There is mounting evidence of increased uptake into humans

—  Dr David McLean, Centre for Public Health Research, Massey University

Concern about glyphosate has grown since a 2015 international cancer report from the World Health Organisation concluded it was a probable carcinogenic.

But several reports, including the EPA’s own, refute that.

Dr David McLean of the Centre for Public Health Research at Massey University said Roundup’s widespread use should be subject to greater control.

“The EPA tried to reproduce the result of the international research on cancer (2015, WHO) but we don’t have the expertise to put together such a comprehensive inquiry. We should defer to those agencies and make rational decisions based on that,” he said.

Dr McLean said there are reports from around the world that say glyphosate sprayed on crops is found in products consumed by humans.

“There is mounting evidence of increased uptake into humans. 

“The EPA is still saying if you use it according to manufacturers’ instructions for use that you won’t be at risk. There’s no justification for that because they haven’t measured, we haven’t measured, the amount of exposure being used,” he said.

Dean Munn says most businesses use Roundup as it’s effective, and organic alternatives are expensive.

He said more needs to be done to educate people, such as information being provided in supermarkets and garden centres.

Mr Dunn said people need to be cautious and invest in buying the appropriate mask and protective clothing if they want to use glyphosate.

“We always have a shower after any chemical spraying and just be sensible about it really,” he said.

Councils for Auckland, Dunedin, Wellington, Hamilton, Invercargill, Porirua, Hutt and Tauranga use glyphosate in their weed control programmes.

Christchurch City Council stopped using the chemical from July 2016, with 40,000 litres of organic weed killer now being used instead.

Pak'nSave, New World, Countdown, Bunnings and Mitre 10 stock glyphosate weed killers.

"Given the recent US decision, we will however consult further with the EPA and ensure the risks and correct practice for weed killer products are clearly labelled in-store," Mitre 10 chief executive Neil Cowie said in a statement.