Cancer worry watered down

By Country News

Federal Agriculture Minister David Littleproud has doused claims the world’s most popular weedkiller is unsafe, calling for calm after health concerns sprouted.

The Cancer Council wants an independent review into glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup, after it was linked to non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

But Mr Littleproud said the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority had determined the chemical was safe.

‘‘The science of the independent regulator says this chemical is safe if you follow the instructions,’’ the minister said last week.

‘‘I just say to everybody — use some common sense, follow the instructions and you’ll be okay.’’

Debate over glyphosate was reignited in August after a Californian jury ordered agribusiness giant Monsanto pay $A399million in damages to a former groundskeeper dying of cancer.

Mr Littleproud said that case and others aired by the ABC’s Four Corners program on Monday last week highlighted excessive exposure.

‘‘Home gardeners shouldn’t get too worried about this; you’re not going to get exposed to levels so long as you follow the instructions,’’ he said.

The minister said farmers were using the chemical in a sensible way, adding agriculture had come a long way in how pesticides were used.

‘‘I just say to everyone, calm down ... and have faith that we have the best science in the world,’’ Mr Littleproud said.

APVMA’s review came after a 2015 report by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, a World Health Organisation body, found glyphosate was ‘‘probably carcinogenic to humans’’.

Labor seized on the concerns, demanding a Senate inquiry into the independence and decision-making of the pesticides agency.

‘‘This issue is too important to the agricultural community, to Australia’s farmers, and to consumers to be left unresolved,’’ Opposition agriculture spokesman Joel Fitzgibbon said on Tuesday last week.

Labor also wants to investigate the impact of moving the regulator from Canberra to Armidale in northern NSW.

National Farmers’ Federation president Fiona Simson said the scientific evidence overwhelmingly proved the chemical was safe.

‘‘There is simply no alternative that is as safe and as effective as glyphosate, for these purposes,’’ Ms Simson said.

University of Melbourne PhD student Chinthani Rathnayake, who attended last week’s Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences Regional Outlook conference in Shepparton, has been undertaking a cost-benefit analysis of a glyphosate ban in her native Sri Lanka.

Use of the chemical, which was banned in 2015 over fears it caused an epidemic of kidney disease in the north of the country, was reinstated this year following complaints from tea growers that their crops had become overrun with weeds and resulted in significant crop losses.