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Question by Ian Chittenden to Mike Whiting, Cabinet Member for Planning, Highways, Transport & Wast

May 23, 2019 7:31 PM

In recent weeks there has been extensive media coverage regarding the use of glyphosate-based weed killers such as Roundup, following concerns about the potential harm to humans and wildlife. In 2015, the International Agency for Research on Cancer, the World Health Organisation's cancer agency, concluded that glyphosate was "probably carcinogenic to humans" and other more recent studies have demonstrated a detrimental impact on bee populations.

Many local authorities including Brighton and Hove and London Borough of Hammersmith have already banned the use of glyphosate, and many others are actively phasing it out. KCC however is still actively using it across the county to spot treat weeds. Does the Cabinet Member recognise the safety concerns raised and will he take urgent action to ensure Kent switches to using the many safer and more eco-friendly alternatives available?

Answer

Thank you, Mr Chittenden. In the UK, glyphosate is approved by the Health and Safety Executive for use on hard surfaces and amenity areas and we follow the guidelines of the HSE when treating weeds.

Glyphosate is currently the most cost effective and efficient way of controlling weeds within KCC's highways, estates and green spaces and is licensed for this application. Alternative methods can cost up to eight times more than conventional weed treatment. Glyphosate is also the only approved product that works to control invasive species within the County's Country Parks with SSSI status.

Weeds have a negative impact on many KCC assets and if left unchecked can cause safety issues, access problems and costly repairs, so they do need to be controlled.

There are conflicting reports surrounding glyphosate. In the same year that the International Agency for Research on Cancer concluded that glyphosate was "probably carcinogenic to humans" the European Food Safety Agency published a report stating that the chemical is "unlikely" to pose a risk. In March 2017, the European Chemicals Agency stated that 'available scientific evidence did not meet the criteria to classify glyphosate as a carcinogen, as a mutagen or as toxic for reproduction'. In April 2019, the US Environmental Protection Agency stated that glyphosate presented "no risks to public health".

The HSE has no plans to suspend glyphosate use as the HSE do not consider its use unsafe when used in accordance with the relevant legislation and codes of practice.

However, I recognise residents' concerns and the confusion that exists between the scientific data and the results of recent US court cases. So, for the time being we will continue to focus on minimising glyphosate use whilst continuing to renew advice from HSE.