‘Farmers must prepare to produce in a post-glyphosate era’

Farmers must prepare to produce food in a ‘post-glyphosate’ era, Darina Allen – owner and founder of Ballymaloe Cookery School – has cautioned.

Speaking at the Ceres Network inaugural conference – on ‘Shaping the Vision for Ireland’s Agri-Food Industry 2030’ – at the Convention Centre Dublin, Allen said farmers “need more support and help” on understanding the threat of glyphosate.

Allen’s comments follow on-going claims that glyphosate – the most widely-used weedkiller in the world and key ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup – poses a potential risk to human health.

This week, the European Union vote on re-authorisating the glyphosate license was delayed once again, as member states failed to reach a qualified majority.

“The research papers are building that glyphosate is a threat. At this stage even if it’s not all true; if only a fraction is true; it’s very hard to know how we can stand over it. If there is any question mark that there could be a link, we really ought to be working on the precautionary principle.

“Most farmers are totally dependent on glyphosate and round-up. They have been encouraged to use it and they have almost forgotten how to farm without it. They really need huge help and support to show them how they can farm without glyphosate,” she said.

As an organic farmer, Allen farms without pesticides and stresses such an approach can produce “incredibly healthy crops”.

Glyphosate is not only potentially affecting human health, but it is affecting the health of the soil. Without rich, fertile soil, we have nothing.

However, speaking on another panel discussion about global trade, Lucinda Creighton – CEO of Vulcan Consulting, and former minister for european affairs and deputy foreign minister – warned that a ban on glyphosate, would be “detrimental” to Irish farming.

One report suggested that glyphosate may be a carcinogenic, yet every other independent report – and many independent scientists – have shown that glyphosate is not a risk to humans.

“The issue has been allowed to gain huge political momentum and that is an issue for the farming bodies, the Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) and other bodies. They need to step up and start challenging them.

“Otherwise this is going to lead to more and more restrictions and costs loaded onto producers. It would be a huge disadvantage if glyphosate can’t be used by farmers,” she said.

Other speakers at the event included: Fiona Muldoon, CEO of FBD Insurance; Michael Hoey, managing director of Country Crest; Helen King, director of consumer insight at Bord Bia; Pat O’Keeffe, head of supplier relations at Glanbia; and Sinead McPhillips, assistant secretary general at the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine.

Senior members of the Irish agri-food industry were urged “not to be complacent” when it comes to meeting the ongoing challenges for the sector and to consider the development of a ‘National Food Strategy’.

The message was delivered to more than 150 delegates at the event, organised by Ceres, a new women in agri-business network – which aims to develop and promote leadership and diverse thinking within the industry.

Origin Green

The challenge of “green-washing” claims targeted at Bord Bia’s Origin Green, national sustainability programme, was also highlighted at the event.

Speaking to AgriLand, Helen King of Bord Bia, said: “First of all the skeptics should realise that Origin Green is the very first national sustainability programme in the world and farmers are making a concerted effort to be better at carbon foot-printing, biodiversity and all the constituents of it.

“Is it perfect? No. Can it be better? Yes. On addressing green-washing claims we must work with the NGOs more. The data is there, the targets are being set at farm level so we probably need greater transparency of that data to show how we are progressing.

All that data is being collected, we haven’t shared it; but, that is perhaps a way of proving how great Origin Green is and proving it to the skeptics. We might be in a position to reveal the data towards the end of next year, or the following year.

The conference was opened by Fiona Muldoon of FBD Insurance, who said that the sector is packed with “professional, able, smart individuals” who need to rise to the challenges the industry is currently facing.

“In planning our road map to 2030, the challenge is that we must differentiate in a highly competitive and somewhat commoditised marketplace. We can do this by offering quality, value for money and sustainability as the basis of our global product offering and thus lay the foundations for our future growth,” she said.

Concluding the session, Monica Gorman, a lecturer at University College Dublin and one of the founding members of the Ceres Network, said agriculture in Ireland – and globally – is facing many challenges. She said that within those challenges are opportunities and risks.

“One thing we know is that no one person or organisation has all the answers and that realistically there are no easy solutions – or none that come without a cost.

“With this conference, we wanted to create a space for diverse voices and people to discuss in an open way some of the challenges and opportunities and we would encourage people to now take responsibility for finding the answers. We must actively seek these kind of spaces to create new energies, new chemistries and innovative thinking,” she concluded.