Dáil debates

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Ceisteanna - Questions - Priority Questions

Plant Protection Products

9:40 am

Photo of Mick WallaceMick Wallace (Wexford, Independent)
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3. To ask the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine if he will prohibit the use of glyphosate herbicide in view of the World Health Organization's finding that the substance is probably carcinogenic to humans; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26373/15]

Photo of Mick WallaceMick Wallace (Wexford, Independent)
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In November last year the Minister defended the use of glyphosate, more commonly known as the main ingredient in Monsanto's Roundup pesticide, on the grounds that it had passed a 2002 EU safety evaluation. He said the comprehensive health assessments conducted by public authorities in the past 40 years had consistently concluded that glyphosate did not pose an unacceptable risk to human health or the environment. He might, however, have noted the findings of the project conducted by the International Agency for Research on Cancer which contradicted much of what he had said in November. Will he reconsider the effects of glyphosate in the food chain?

9:50 am

Photo of Simon CoveneySimon Coveney (Minister, Department of Agriculture, the Marine and Food; Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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In truth, it is being looked at all the time.

Decisions on the authorisation of an active substance, such as glyphosate, are made at EU level following advice from the European Food Safety Authority, EFSA. Member states have competence to authorise products containing EU-approved active substances.

Glyphosate is a non-selective systemic herbicide that is applied directly to plant foliage. It was first commercialised in the mid-1970s and is registered worldwide. It is used in agriculture, forestry, industry, home and garden, and semi-aquatic areas. It is primarily used as a means of total weed control prior to the establishment of field crops or at the very end of the growing season to desiccate the crop to manipulate harvest date and improve crop quality.

Regulation (EC) No 1107/2009 regulates the authorisation, marketing and use of plant protection products. Maximum residue levels, MRLs, are currently in place, including for glyphosate, facilitating all currently registered uses. The MRLs are currently under review by the European Food Safety Authority and the member states.

Glyphosate was previously reviewed in 2002, as part of the EU plant protection product review programme which has allowed its continued use. A scheduled re-review is currently underway, with Germany acting as the rapporteur and Slovakia acting as a co-rapporteur. The process of peer reviewing the German-Slovakian evaluation is coming to a conclusion and it is expected that this process will be completed within the next few months. As part of the process the European Food Safety Authority is co-ordinating a review by all member states of its evaluation.

The German evaluators will also perform a thorough review of the classification issued by the World Health Organization agency, the International Agency for Research on Cancer, IARC, once its full report, which is expected in August, becomes available. All uses of products containing glyphosate approved in Ireland are in line with approved uses in all other EU states. Uses are only granted if the appropriate risk assessment indicates that safe use is possible under normal conditions. To date, no EU or, indeed, OECD countries have taken a negative regulatory position on glyphosate and currently all EU member states have product authorisations in place.

Photo of Mick WallaceMick Wallace (Wexford, Independent)
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A German NGO research group, called Testbiotech, strongly criticised the German report the Minister is talking about and stated that the report failed to evaluate several peer review studies which were omitted for unknown reasons. To frighten us a bit more, they told us that Germany's Federal Institute for Risk Assessment's pesticide committee has employees from pesticide giants that profit from glyphosate - two from BASF and one from Bayer - among its members.

Does it concern the Minister that the Dutch have changed tack on this? The Dutch are banning the use of glyphosate in public parks and any areas near people. Surely, there must be a reason for this. From November 2015, any product containing glyphosate will not be used by the Dutch.

The people are becoming afraid of it. We should be too. If cancer rates are growing in Ireland, there is something amiss. It is either something we eat or drink, and I am convinced that we have serious problems with our water table. I think we are being poisoned in the long term.

Photo of Simon CoveneySimon Coveney (Minister, Department of Agriculture, the Marine and Food; Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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First, cancer rates are clearly linked to what we eat and drink, and what we smoke as well. There is a series of reasons for cancer and we need to be aware of that, and we need public health campaigns to try and address it. However, we also need to have faith in the European systems that have been put in place. I have faith in the European Food Safety Authority to ensure that reviews and, as they are called, re-reviews are done thoroughly. What is happening at present is that Germany and Slovakia, together, acting as rapporteurs to look at reviewing this substance, are doing that in a thorough way. It will then be fully peer reviewed before final conclusions are drawn towards the end of the summer. They are also tapping in to the World Health Organization to ensure that nothing is missed.

I take Deputy Wallace's point. Issues are raised by NGOs all the time. Sometimes there is something real behind those concerns. Sometimes they are raising questions that need to be answered or clarified. We need to look constantly at all of that. There is a comprehensive review underway. We will await the outcome of that with interest and we will act accordingly.

Photo of Mick WallaceMick Wallace (Wexford, Independent)
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The Minister referred to the World Health Organization but the body that I referred to, the International Agency for Research on Cancer, is a WHO body. The Minister will probably be familiar as well with the fact the Corporate Europe Observatory has shown that the current authorisation of glyphosate relies on old out-dated testing protocols and, almost exclusive, on industry studies. The agencies, that the Minister quotes and that he states he can rely on, are riddled with industry lobbyists who are only interested in security of the chemical sector's profits.

Photo of Simon CoveneySimon Coveney (Minister, Department of Agriculture, the Marine and Food; Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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That is nonsense.

Photo of Mick WallaceMick Wallace (Wexford, Independent)
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It is outrageous that the Minister would argue that there are not persons lobbying on behalf of large corporate profits.

Photo of Simon CoveneySimon Coveney (Minister, Department of Agriculture, the Marine and Food; Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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Of course, there are.

Photo of Mick WallaceMick Wallace (Wexford, Independent)
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Look at what is going on with the TTIP. I refer to most of those trying to water down the regulations in Europe at present. The pressure is coming from lobbyists for big industry that has a profit motive and profits are being put before the health of the people. The Government should put the health of the Irish people before the profits of large chemical corporations making crazy money.

Photo of Simon CoveneySimon Coveney (Minister, Department of Agriculture, the Marine and Food; Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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The Government always puts the health of Irish people before the profits of anybody.

Photo of Mick WallaceMick Wallace (Wexford, Independent)
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Ban this substance then.

Photo of Simon CoveneySimon Coveney (Minister, Department of Agriculture, the Marine and Food; Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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That is what the European Food Safety Authority is there for. Any organisation gets lobbied. Deputy Wallace gets lobbied.

Photo of Mick WallaceMick Wallace (Wexford, Independent)
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The Minister is ignoring the WHO.

Photo of Simon CoveneySimon Coveney (Minister, Department of Agriculture, the Marine and Food; Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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Deputy Wallace should let me answer his question. I did not interrupt him.

Whether it is TTIP or any other policy consideration, there will be lobbyists from all sides, from NGOs, industry, health organisations and stakeholders, because many people, including the Deputy, have different vested interests in different decisions.

Photo of Mick WallaceMick Wallace (Wexford, Independent)
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This is not safe.

Photo of Simon CoveneySimon Coveney (Minister, Department of Agriculture, the Marine and Food; Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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That is the way it should be. We need to have institutions that can balance and prioritise within those considerations. I am saying human health comes first. That is why we have a food safety authority and a world health organisation. It is why we are having a re-review here on the back of a review. It is why it will be fully peer tested. It is why Ireland and other European countries will act on the back of the results coming from that review. Deputy Wallace is not even willing to wait until August to get the results of the review. He has already decided because of something an NGO has said.

Photo of Mick WallaceMick Wallace (Wexford, Independent)
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I am bringing the results to the Minister.

Photo of Simon CoveneySimon Coveney (Minister, Department of Agriculture, the Marine and Food; Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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That is the reality. Deputy Wallace is seeing a conspiracy around the corner before we even get a result.

Photo of Mick WallaceMick Wallace (Wexford, Independent)
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The Minister is prepared to ignore the WHO.