Three landmark victories in separate court actions in the United States have put the manufactures of Roundup well and truly on the ropes.
But a far more pressing problem for Australian consumers now is how to treat the product on supermarket shelves.
As the world’s most widely used weed-killer, it’s effectiveness is not in question- but how safely it’s being used in hundreds of thousands of Aussie backyards is seriously debatable.
For those in the agricultural sector, the commercial spraying of glyphosate-related chemicals is often done by farmers who are used to protecting themselves against the risks of spray and aerosolised contact.
However, the average weekend gardener is another story entirely.
As we’ve seen from the jury verdicts which have proved Roundup to be a cause of cancer, the key has been the level of exposure.
In this country, the exposure of any dangerous or potentially toxic chemical to public users is supposed to be monitored and regulated by a corporate Commonwealth entity known as the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority.
According to their published mission statement, the APVMA’s role is to “Independently evaluate the safety and performance of chemical products intended for sale, ensuring that the health and safety of people, animals and the environment are protected”.
The first thing that stands out here is their claim of independence. This is a mob who, in their last published annual report, received almost $33 million in industry contributions.
That represents more than seventy five percent of their budget paid in fees and levies by chemical companies, so it’s difficult to imagine a fierce culture of operational independence in laying down the law to those responsible for the revenue.
However, putting aside a compromised funding model, the decision by the APVMA not to be interviewed by 60 Minutes and openly tell the Australian public what they think of Roundup, is not the action of an open, accountable regulator.
The watchdog’s official position can be viewed on its website but for the unsuspecting consumer, it is only half the story.
In concluding that products containing glyphosate are safe, the APVMA; “reminds users of the importance of following all label instructions”.
But in the case of Roundup, unfortunately for the average gardener, not all the instructions are on the label.
Worse, perhaps the most important direction is nowhere to be seen on the familiar, green container.
Every day, from mainstream hardware shops, spray-packs of Roundup walk off the shelves with a sticker that reads, under the heading of safety directions- “avoid contact with the eyes and wash hands after use”.
What it doesn’t tell you is that before you zap those pesky weeds in your pavement cracks, you should have gone to the product’s safety data sheet on the internet, where you would have discovered much more complex advice from the manufacturer.
Under sub-section 8 for ‘Exposure Controls and Personal Protection, the makers recommend safety goggles and impervious chemical gloves – and here’s the best bit; “Respiratory protection may be necessary… an approved respirator with a replaceable mist filter must be worn”.
So, not merely a facial mask but a full-blown respirator with a filter.