Managing weeds

It’s time to get out of spraying weeds with herbicides, argues Alison Johnstone.

Edinburgh City Council has just completed consultation on its Low Emission Zone proposals, with the aim of tackling air pollution in the capital. While there have been criticisms of the proposals, with some campaigners arguing that they do not go far enough to tackle the toxic transport fumes plaguing our city, the direction of travel is right.

While we must maintain our focus on transport emissions, we should not overlook the other toxins that are pervading our city. Tackling indoor pollution must be prioritised, as well as the everyday chemicals that are poisoning our environment.

Glyphosate is a weedkiller still used by many councils, despite concerns repeatedly being expressed about its safety. A report submitted to Edinburgh’s Transport and Environment Committee in August last year revealed that some studies suggest that glyphosate has potential links to cancer, whilst others have associated glyphosate use with non-Hodgkin lymphoma and reproductive problems. While that same report acknowledged that in 2017 the European Chemicals Agency and the European Food Safety Authority both concluded that there is no evidence to link glyphosate to cancer in humans, an increasing number of public agencies have concluded that it is not worth the risk.

Edinburgh’s Green councillors have been vocal on this matter and just last week, Councillor Gavin Corbett (pictured at a recent event looking at thermal based alternatives) spoke publicly about the council’s use of glyphosate-based weedkiller and called for an alternative to be found. This is a long-running issue, however, which was being debated as early as October 2015, when Green Councillor, Chas Booth, tabled a motion at a meeting of the Transport and Environment Committee.

This called for the committee to continue to investigate alternatives to the use of glyphosate and phase out its use by the council as soon as an effective and cost-effective alternative weed control strategy was identified. Almost four years have elapsed since this motion was approved by the committee. The time for a ‘phasing out’ approach has been and gone. Action must be taken to stop glyphosate being sprayed in Edinburgh’s communities, not least in areas such as public parks and gardens, sports and recreation grounds, school grounds, children’s playgrounds and in the close vicinity of healthcare facilities.

I have been contacted by constituents about this issue and I understand that campaigners in Balerno are organising a trial of alternative this week. When I raised it with the Scottish Government, it responded that, as glyphosate is currently approved for use in the European Union, it should be approved for use in Scotland. However, several European countries, including Holland, Denmark and Sweden, have banned or restricted the use of glyphosate herbicides by local authorities because of alleged links with a variety of health problems ranging from birth defects and kidney failure to celiac disease, colitis and autism.

On 2 July Austria became the first country in the EU to ban glyphosate weedkiller. Scotland is falling behind other EU countries, despite assurances from the First Minister that we are a world-leader on environmental issues. In the absence of governmental action, I call on Edinburgh City Council to get rid of glyphosate-based weedkillers. It simply is not worth the risk.