A Northern Ireland council is taking a “backward step” by increasing its use of a controversial weed killer to tackle invasive species in its parks and land.
Newry, Mourne and Down District Council (NMDDC) had been set to reduce the use of glyphosate chemicals to 0% this year following successive annual cuts from 2020.
However a sustainability and environment report has recommended the re-introduction of the chemical’s use at a level of 50% of its use by the Council in 2018/19.
A council officer said: “For the calendar year 2023 there is an expected zero application of herbicides containing glyphosate, which officers are advising is not achievable without significant uncontrolled weed growth on council property.
“Council has obtained new locations including forest parks and extensions to existing locations, and so the area requiring weed control has increased, so comparisons with the base year of 2018/19 are not comparable.”
Glyphosate, found in the council’s ‘Roundup’ weedkiller, has been widely linked to claims it can cause cancer – something which its manufacturer has disputed.
Numerous international agencies, including the European Chemical Agency and European Food Safety Authority (Efsa), continue to declare glyphosate as safe. However, in 2015, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) ruled that glyphosate was “probably carcinogenic”.
NMDDC has extended use of the chemical to Delamount Country Park in Co Down with other forest parks such as Castlewellan now expected to be follow.
Slieve Croob Alliance councillor Andrew McMurray said: “I was heartened to read that the reduction of the use of glyphosate had been going well until now. In my mind going back to 50% is a retrograde step.
“We should be continuing to reduce it. On new council lands I have noted the brown marks on the land with many constituents unhappy.
“I would be of the mind to counter propose a 0% usage. We need to be doing some serious fact finding, there are
alternatives being used across the water. We should have a workshop in the next council to look into alternatives.”
A council officer confirmed that children’s play park areas under council management would continue to have weeds manually removed without the need for herbicides. The effects of not taking control of weeds in the district was also raised in the chamber.
Crotlieve independent councillor Jarlath Tinnelly said: “Without a viable alternative to keep towns and footpaths at acceptable levels of weed control, at times you can see some places becoming a kip. We could soon have tumble-weeds blowing up the street.”
Crotlieve SDLP councillor Karen McKevitt added: “Alternatives have worked when used where possible. I don’t like this back step, but at the end of the day we don’t have an alternative to deal with all weed treatment.”
An agreement was reached for NMDDC to limit the level of glyphosate herbicide use to 30% of the base rate for 2023.
The EU approval for the use of glyphosate runs out at the end of this year on December 15.