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Herbicide Concerns

One of our senior Site Foremen recently highlighted an article from America, which is typical of a number of articles appearing on less well-known sites across the web. The article expressed concerns about glyphosate-based herbicides, and the toxicity of glyphosate when combined with other chemicals (known as adjuvants) in a variety of formulations similar to those which are widely available over the counter in the UK. 

Glyphosate-based herbicides are also widely used in the UK amenity and agriculture sectors; over 80% of herbicides applied in the UK contain glyphosate, and the majority of the products will contain other chemicals known as ‘adjuvants’, which are there to increase the effectiveness of the herbicide – including by breaking down oily coatings on the plant’s leaves, aiding absorption, improving the miscibility of the concentrate with water, or by reducing foaming in the tank.

I took some time to review some of the articles, and aside from some questions about the methodology of some of the studies, and the conclusions which the articles’ authors drew from their results, the main thing that I noticed was that all the articles referred to issues in America. Another thing that I noticed was that these articles seemed to suggest that the adjuvants contained in the products did not form part of the testing regime there.

Responsible stewardship of pesticides in the UK does not rely solely on the behaviour of contractors, farmers and landowners – although there are numerous duties and responsibilities placed on all of these stakeholders both by law and by best practice.

The UK also has a regulatory framework which ranks as one of the most stringent in the world, with the government, arm’s-length bodies, autonomous organizations and stakeholders all participating in an open, visible and highly-regulated process.

The Chemicals Regulation Directorate (CRD) is part of the UK Health and Safety Executive (HSE), and regulates and approves pesticide products (or “plant protection products”) for use in the UK. Companies wishing to bring pesticide products to market must go through several stages of scrutiny, presenting large amounts of evidence, based on lengthy studies.

What’s more, the UK’s regulatory frameworks falls within the EU’s own regulatory framework [link – http://www.pesticides.gov.uk/guidance/industries/pesticides/topics/pesticide-approvals/eu/european-regulation/regulation-of-plant-protection-products-in-europe.htm], which has clearly demonstrated that it has the will, not just the power to impose tough restrictions against the will of the UK – bans on Azulam and on neonicotinoid pesticides being just two examples.

The CRD acts on behalf of the UK in Europe, and works closely with the European authorities in the multi-layered process of approving both the active ingredient (e.g. glyphosate) at the European level, before individual plant protection products are tested “in formulation” in separate countries. This means that not only are the active ingredients in the herbicide tested, but the products are tested exactly as they will be applied – including the adjuvants in the formulation – before they are approved for use.

JKSL have participated in such testing in the past, and although we have never had any issues with any of the products that we have tested, our feedback has always been actively sought, and taken on board by the testing teams.

All in all, this means that all of the relevant concerns raised by the articles I read are already directly addressed by the UK regulatory system – and there are channels both in the UK and EU for new evidence to be presented.

Additional concerns have been addressed over the persistence of glyphosate in genetically modified (GM) crops. Currently no GM crops are currently grown in the UK. However, if licences are granted for the growing of GM crops here in future, one would expect that measures already in place for the use of herbicides in crop production would be sufficient to ensure that any residue levels would fall well within the already-established accepted levels.

Such measures include the requirement for any plant protection product used to treat food crops to specify pre-harvest intervals on the label (the minimum amount of time which must pass between the last application of any plant protection product and the harvesting of the produce).

When it comes to professional products (which can only be applied by land-owners or qualified individuals), the product label specifies usage constraints which are legally enforceable requirements for use – not simply guidelines.

JKSL have used a number of herbicides and adjuvants in the thirteen years that we have been trading (and longer, for some of our team), generally with good results, always without any reported adverse health effects, and of course, without environmental incident!

Our professional, fully-qualified Spray Operatives are in the process of being added to the new BASIS Spray Operatives Register (formerly the National Spray Operatives Register – NaSOR). Our staff and work to industry guidelines including the INNSA Standards and the Amenity Assured Standard following industry best practice and using their considerable knowledge and expertise to deliver a safe, reliable and effective service.

More importantly in terms of Health and Safety, Japanese Knotweed Solutions implement robust risk control measures following regular, detailed risk assessments covering both health and safety and environmental risks to safeguard our employees and our clients at all times. We supplement our team’s basic spray training with continuous professional development; with regular briefings and regular updates on new chemical herbicides; with new equipment and with new approaches.

Our team help us to improve too – feeding back on the effectiveness of their works, the new products which we bring in from time-to-time and any concerns raised by our clients and the wider community. They talk to us about safety and technique, and they help us to improve our safety, efficiency and our business.

What’s more, we take innovation and Research & Development seriously too: Japanese Knotweed Solutions was one of the first companies in the UK to use the stem injection technique for treating Japanese knotweed, and we pioneered many of the mechanical remediation techniques currently used in the industry.

We are also the only company to offer the patented MeshTech treatment for Japanese knotweed, which kills Japanese knotweed in-situ, requiring minimal maintenance and using no herbicide at all.

This holistic approach – from the regulation of central government to oversight and policing by a variety of official agencies, to the due diligence of main contractors, and all the way down to the actions of well-trained individuals like our Site Operatives – is what has helped the UK to maintain a strong safety record on pesticide use.

Industry self-policing on pesticides has also had notable effects – including the UK-wide campaign on metaldehyde use, which has so far prevented the withdrawal of a potentially problematic pesticide by encouraging and educating users as to how it can be used safely.

This shows how the industry can respond to changes in the European regulatory framework by improving safety and performance from the bottom up.

Are JKSL concerned about the safety of the herbicides we use? Absolutely!

We care as a company and as individuals about our environment, and we will continue to review the available evidence, continue to follow the letter and spirit of the law and will continue to meet and improve industry best-practice.

Do we have any doubts about the safety of the herbicides that we use? Absolutely not.

We are confident that (when used as directed) the products that we use are safe – safe for our clients, safe for our team and safe for our environment.