Alternatives to Round Up being trialled

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Dozens of local councils across Australia have moved to reduce their reliance on the weedkiller Roundup, or trial alternatives, and the number could grow in the wake of a US court case.

Key points:

  • Efforts to limit use of Roundup by local councils in Australia predate US court case
  • Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority said 2016 review “found no grounds to place it under formal reconsideration”.
  • Alternatives to Roundup include steam weeding and plant-derived spray

Chemical giant Monsanto was ordered to pay more than $300 million to a dying man who used Roundup, which contains glyphosate, during his job as a school groundsman in California.

The jury found the company failed to warn him that glyphosate might cause cancer.

Bayer, the German owner of Monsanto, maintains the chemical is safe.

Various countries have faced public pressure to ban or phase out products containing glyphosate.

In Australia, the Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA) said a review in 2016 had “found no grounds to place it under formal reconsideration”.

But efforts to limit the use of Roundup by local councils in Australia predate the US case.

Cook Shire Council, in far north Queensland, is one of many councils the ABC has spoken to that has moved away from the use of the herbicide.

“We are concerned [as are] our constituents about the use of Roundup and the glyphosate,” Mayor Peter Scott said.

“There are still instances where we have to use this stuff on the really tough grasses …[but] wherever possible we’re looking at alternatives.”

What are the alternatives?

Steam weeding is emerging as the most popular alternative for councils keen to reduce their chemical use.

It involves pressurising water to boiling point and then targeting weeds with an applicator.

Byron Shire in northern New South Wales is among dozens of councils to have trialled managing weeds using steam machines.

Mayor Simon Richardson said his council was aiming to avoid the use of chemicals in as many areas as possible, but said there were exceptions.

“For a lot of ecologists and bush-regeneration practitioners, they see targeted chemical use as a necessary evil to start to peel back the damage that’s been done,” he said.

“When done in conjunction with native tree planting, over a few years you can increasingly minimise the use of chemicals to allow the forest to take over.

“Some are concerned that if we ban the use completely without a viable alternative, we’ll give our native areas back to weeds, and it is the second biggest threat to biodiversity behind land clearing.”

The president of the Tasmanian Local Government Association, Doug Chipman, who is also Mayor of Clarence City Council, said there were few alternatives to Roundup.

“The court case has certainly raised alarm bells, we’ve looked into it, we’d like to be using another product but there’s simply no other product on the market,” he said.

“At one stage there we were using hot steam to spray weeds on footpaths and things like that, but that didn’t turn out out be cost effective and certainly didn’t last very long at all.”

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