Glyphosate, sold as RoundUp, is the most used herbicide in South Africa and is sprayed on genetically modified crops such as maize. Picture: Simphiwe Mbokazi
Cape Town - Spier Wine Estate farmer Angus McIntosh wants the use of glyphosate, the main ingredient in many weed killers, banned.

The herbicide is widely used by the agricultural industry on genetically modified crops, while landscapers and home gardeners also use it. Glyphosate is thought to be linked to some forms of cancer and other diseases.

McIntosh, who runs the Farmer Angus butchery on 126ha of land on the estate in Stellenbosch, said glyphosate had received attention around the world for its negative effects.

“South Africa is the only country in the entire world where the population’s staple diet - maize - is genetically modified. These maize crops are just one of the many crops that are being sprayed with glyphosate which eventually ends up in our food and water sources,” said McIntosh.

Glyphosate is sprayed directly onto the crops one to two weeks before harvesting to speed up the drying process that occurs when the crops begin to die. Glyphosate is absorbed by the plant and cannot be removed by washing.

“When South Africa first began farming with genetically modified crops in 1997, it was without the public’s permission or knowledge. Today, there is still no mention of glyphosate content on any packaging.

“People don’t know what they are eating. Essentially they are being forced to eat genetically modified food, laced with poison.”

In the most recent study, researchers at the University of Washington in the US found a direct link between glyphosate and non-Hodgkin lymphoma, a cancer of the immune system.

Last month, Miami announced its ban on glyphosate, as did the Indian State of Kerala in February and France in January. Many other governments around the world have either placed restrictions on or have issued a statement of their intention to ban it.

However, Dr Gerhard Verdoorn, of the agriculture industry association, CropLife SA, said there was no reason to ban glyphosate. “I have no records of acute or chronic poisoning of people, wildlife, livestock of the plant ecology in 25 years of dealing with poisoning cases. If the SA government takes the recent jury decisions in the US seriously, then there is something really wrong in the system. The court rulings in the US were based on the interpretation of jury members none of whom were scientists.

“Banning glyphosate is like switching all the lights off forever to save the world - it is simply stupid. Without glyphosate, we would have serious weed problems and plant disease and plant pest problems as weeds contribute significantly to plant diseases and plant pests,” said Verdoorn.

He said CropLife SA was happy to lobby for government intervention when necessary, but saw no need to do so with glyphosate.

Weekend Argus