Expect a darker world if we ignore the science on glyphosate

Questions about the safety of glyphosate are intensely personal for me.

When news first broke of alleged links between glyphosate use and cancer, my first thoughts were of my family.

My husband and I have raised our children on a farm where glyphosate plays a central role each season. My son who works on our farm has spent countless hours applying glyphosate to manage weed incursions.

My family is typical of thousands of farming families which I represent as head of the National Farmers’ Federation.

That is why I’ve searched hard to identify credible evidence which might support the case against glyphosate.

After months of talking with experts and regulators in this field, the conclusion from the National Farmers’ Federation is simple: there is no link.

That’s not simply our opinion, it’s the considered position of trusted, science-based regulators the world over: in the United States, Japan, Canada, the United Kingdom, here in Australia… I could go on.

The real risk here is not glyphosate. It is the haste with which facts have been cast aside in favour of sensationalist headlines – sending the echo chamber of ill-informed online ‘experts’ into overdrive.

A number of parallels to the nonsense of the anti-vaccination movement are not hard to find.

This debate represents the precipice of a very slippery slope. It is clear the community no longer values the miraculous breakthroughs in agricultural science which have elevated billions of people from poverty and hunger in recent decades.

Glyphosate is one of the fundamental tools that we’ll need if we’re to succeed in that ongoing fight against poverty and hunger, in the context of a ballooning global population.

But withdrawing glyphosate would not just be a humanitarian disaster. Glyphosate (and products like it) have fundamentally changed the sustainability of farming in Australia in the space of a generation.

New practices like low- and no-till cropping have radically reduced our greenhouse gas emissions, improved the quality of our soils, and taken water use efficiency to new heights.

Our healthier farming landscape has rewarded us economically too. Farming communities are now far more resilient in dry times (like those we’ve seen recently), with smarter management allowing us to continue production in more marginal seasons. Indeed, as the impacts of climate change start to exacerbate seasonal challenges, we need more tools in our management arsenal – not less.

Despite all this, we’re now at a point where losing access to glyphosate is a remarkable but real possibility. The issue continues to snowball regardless of the lack of evidence.

Recently, global retail giant CostCo, announced it would remove RoundUp from its shelves bowing to pressure from a petition by online juggernaut Moms Across America, which boasted 150,000 signatures.

And of course we now have legal proceedings underway in Australia – hot on the heels of science-snubbing jury verdicts in the United States.

As someone who has been on this journey, from alarm to understanding, I sympathise with those who are concerned.

I especially sympathise with those who might have their own anecdote of someone who worked with RoundUp and succumbed to cancer (as people from all walks of life do). It is especially cruel to let those people believe that a product is to blame for their suffering.

I urge you: inform yourself fully, and listen to the science before allowing yourself to be swept up in a global frenzy. Left unchecked, this anti-science agenda will leave a devastating legacy.

This editorial first appeared in The Daily Telegraph on Friday 5 July.

Find out what you need to know about glyphosate here

Fiona Simson

Fiona Simson

Fiona Simson is the President of the National Farmers' Federation and a farmer from the Liverpool Plains.

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