The Malta Independent 17 August 2022, Wednesday

Authorities to discuss potential end to use of weed killer after WHO finds ‘probable cancer link'

Duncan Barry Sunday, 29 March 2015, 07:36 Last update: about 8 years ago

A few days after the World Health Organisation’s International Agency for Research on Cancer released a report declaring a  link between Monsanto’s ‘Roundup’ herbicide and cancer, the Maltese authorities are set to discuss whether it will bring to an end the widespread use of the herbicide.

The issue will be raised in a meeting to be held soon between the Directorate of Environmental Health and the Malta Consumer and Competition Authority.

The health secretariat told this newsroom that the herbicide is regulated under the Pesticides Control Act and that licences are issued for its use to contractors every three years. It said that while it is constantly monitoring WHO’s developments on the subject and that it will take action accordingly, the secretariat has not ruled out that a new clause may be created to prevent contractors from using this particular herbicide.

This comes after The Malta Independent on Sunday quizzed the health authorities this week on whether it intends raising the alarm and taking action following the most recent of the weed killer revelations.

Interestingly, the biotech giant – Monsanto - reportedly called on the agency to issue a ‘retraction’.

The WHO report – which was published in the medical journal The Lancet – read that after 17 experts from 11 countries met at the international agency for research and cancer (IARC) in Lyon, France to access the carcinogenicity of the ingredients used in the herbicide, the experts concluded that the herbicide glyphosate and the insecticides malathion and diazinon are to be classified as "probably carcinogenic to humans". With regards to glyphosate, the official document concludes that there is "sufficient evidence of carcinogenicity in experimental animals. Glyphosate also caused DNA and chromosomal damage in human cells”.

Glyphosate is the main ingredient of Roundup, a weed killer produced by Monsanto together with a number of ‘Roundup-ready’ crops that are resistant to it, enabling fields to be sprayed with Roundup to kill everything but the crop plant. The product is believed to be used to kill weeds which grow on roundabouts as well.


FoE Malta 2013 lab test findings

Worthy of note is that in June 2013, tests carried out by Friends of The Earth Malta concluded that nine out of 10 urine samples from tested people in Malta contained traces of the weed killer glyphosate. The FoE findings were published in The Malta Independent on Sunday.

The results of laboratory tests carried out across Europe had been published for the first time in June 2013, coincidentally the same week this newspaper had been investigating reports related to the use of Roundup in Malta and its effects, after a bee keeper, who preferred not to be named, raised the alarm with this paper.

However, doubts were cast on the study’s reliability since only 10 samples were taken in the case of Malta, and an average of 12 tests were carried out in other European countries.

FoE had issued a statement shortly after and said it could confirm that the test followed a standard scientific methodology and samples were sent to a reputable lab in Germany together with other samples from 17 other European countries.

Despite the widespread use of glyphosate, governments rarely monitor its presence in food or water.

According to FoE, glyphosate is widely used by farmers in Europe to clear weeds from fields before planting, or before seeds have germinated.

Prior to the FoE’s findings, the Environment Ministry had explained to this newspaper that the product in question is legally authorised as a herbicide and any professional in the field using such products must hold a valid licence issued by the authority to use plant protection products while having to abide by the conditions mentioned on the label.

“The technical data displayed on the product states that the greatest risk (when used as per the conditions laid down on the label) is faced by the user and not so much the bystanders since the product degrades rapidly once it comes into contact with soil.

“The regulations on sustainable use of pesticides require that the application of plant protection products in urban zones should be done when there is low human activity. Moreover, local authorities recommend that physical means of weed control are used as much as possible instead of using herbicides,” the ministry said

One of the precautionary measures displayed on the label of the glyphosate-based weed killer recommends that the product is only used in good weather and in temperatures not exceeding 25 degrees Celsius.

The fact that the product cannot be used in temperatures exceeding 25°Celsius and that it can only be applied in fine weather raises questions as to when the herbicide can actually be applied safely in Malta since the only time the weather is relatively calm is during the summer months when temperatures exceed 25 degrees.

Naxxar council to insert new clause

In late December 2013, the Naxxar local council had told The Malta Independent on Sunday when asked that it planned to prohibit the use of herbicides to control weeds after a motion was presented to the council calling for its ban, while it also intended issuing a call for tender for bidders willing to abide by the council’s decision and use alternative methods to kill weeds.

The motion for the herbicide to be prohibited in the locality of Naxxar had initially been presented by PN councillor Pierre Sciberras.

This week, this newspaper asked the council whether it had prohibited the use of herbicides to which a council spokesman replied: “The Council decided to include a clause prohibiting the use of herbicides in the new contract. Contract is due to be awarded in the coming weeks.”

This means that the use of the weed killer was still widespread in the locality of Naxxar for instance. But this is not the only locality of course.

A council spokesman had said that as things stood, the contract did not bind the contractor to use alternative methods or make any reference to chemical use, and once a new contractor is selected, the contract will stipulate so.


Meanwhile, the then mayor of St Paul’s Bay, Mario Salerno, had told this newspaper that he had stopped the use of herbicides as soon as he was elected mayor.

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