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Precautionary Principle And Glyphosate: Why Risk It?

The Environmental Protection Agency has asked New Zealanders to share information about how they use the chemical Glyphosate and about the effects the chemical is having on our health and environment.

According to New Zealand's Ministry for Primary Industries Glyphosate is used in about 90 products, of which Roundup is the most recognised brand. Non-Toxic Neighbourhoods Northland spokesperson, Kim Fairhurst said, “It is used so widely here that it’s difficult to find a street, park or school that isn’t being sprayed with some kind of Glyphosate based herbicide (GBH) on a regular basis.”

It is normal to see Council contractors in hi-vis vests with backpacks filled with toxic chemicals, applying them to public parks, roadside berms, walking trails and even around the base of trees. Contractors in utes drive rural roads spraying poison from a boom up to two metres wide with little concern for walkers, cyclists or cars driving behind the stream of chemical spray. With dieback not evident for days if not weeks, and no signage warning of spray application, use of the berm is a hidden hazard with effects on children of major concern.

The EPA says that Glyphosate is “safe” when used in accordance with the directions, but by its very nature spray drifts and has been recorded drifting for up to several kilometres. How can this practice be considered “safe” and shouldn’t we be erring on the side of caution?

“In New Zealand we have been taught that chemical poisons are not only helpful tools, but that they are necessary, and that without them we would be over run with weeds and productivity would drop. But really that’s just a myth.” said Flora and Fauna of Aotearoa spokesperson, Asha Andersen. “We need to look out for public health first and consider why is it being banned all around the world. What does the international research say about its affects on people and the environment? Let’s start there.”

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The chemical has been found contaminating our food chain, with 20% of New Zealand manuka honey testing positive for contamination last year (1). Internationally, it has been found in milk, including mother’s breastmilk (2), as well as soy sauce, beans, chickpeas, tap water, oats, honey and corn (3). Field analysis by NIWA over ten years ago found glyphosate and its breakdown product AMPA in Auckland’s aquatic sediments (4). Despite all common sense, it has become a standard practice in agriculture to spray some crops such as silage for stock, wheat, oats and potatoes at harvest time with a Glyphosate based product acting as a desiccant to dry off crops. Surely, the fact that it is known to contaminate food and end up in aquatic sediment, would be a word of warning against such practices.

International research has repeatedly called into question the safety of Glyphosate, linking it to an alarming number of diseases and chronic and acute health conditions. Various types of cancer, including breast cancer, bowel cancer, non-hodgkin lymphoma, infertility and autoimmune diseases (5). Yet despite our high rates of these diseases, little thought is given to the link between our heavy use of such toxic chemicals and public health, and it remains difficult to access testing.

Kiwis might be surprised to learn that the New Zealand EPA has never done an independent risk assessment of Glyphosate but has instead relied on the industry studies which are not peer reviewed and come with an inherent bias. As a consequence of this our environment, food chain and health have been put at risk and in many cases severely compromised.

Ms Andersen says, “A People’s Inquiry is calling for information from people around the country who have been injured by chemical exposure, including from glyphosate based herbicide exposure. Chronic health conditions resulting from chemical exposure can irreversibly alter people’s lives, leading to pain and suffering and often terminal illness. Lack of adequate testing and monitoring of chemical exposure means it usually goes unrecognised and people suffer with inadequate help and a lack of recognition for their condition. One man shared his experience with the Inquiry recently, he had been exposed to a range of chemicals including Glyphosate based herbicides during his time working as a farmer. It is devastating for people who are put in these situations and then struggle to get even basic help.”

He had this to say about the impacts on his life: “I am re-affected regularly leading to pain and debilitation. Chronic fatigue and other symptoms including constant tinnitus, skin rashes, itching, and night pain and sweats. I have increased anxiety and emotional arousal and I feel at risk when out and about as chemicals including solvents bring on the symptoms. I have a fear of the unknown and new locations because of the risk of exposure.”

“My health stops me doing the things I used to do. My physical illness is constant, ongoing and with increasing sensitivities and only temporary relief available until the next episode. Debilitating physical limitations, fatigue, pain and numerous other symptoms resulting in a disability which can not be improved nor controlled by the best Doctors in that field of medicine this country has to offer.” CKM (Mr.)

If you have been negatively impacted by exposure to toxic chemicals like Glyphosate based herbicides or similar herbicides, pesticides or poisons, we welcome you to contact The People’s Inquiry and share your experience.



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