The Department of Agriculture says it was not influenced by industry lobbying when it rowed back on restrictions on the use of the cancer-linked weed-killer, glyphosate.
That is despite correspondence showing that the department was lobbied and despite officials later saying the change of heart came after “having consulted with industry”.
Letters and emails released under Freedom of Information, and published by the Irish Examiner on Monday show the department was lobbied by groups, including Monsanto (the multinational chemical company that created glyphosate and which sells it as Round-up), and the Irish Feed and Grain Association.
They objected to Ireland’s decision to ban the use of glyphosate on crops for human consumption, in line with recommendations by the European Commission, which is wondering whether to extend the chemical’s clearance for use in the EU.
The department subsequently watered down its plans for a voluntary ban and a prohibition on spraying in some circumstances, but it said yesterday that it acted in the public interest.
“Consumer safety and environmental protection are the primary concerns for the department, when making decisions on product approvals,” it said. “Any suggestion that this [policy change] arises as a result of industry lobbying is not accepted.”
It said it consulted with other member states and satisfied itself that Ireland’s stance was not out of line with the approach taken elsewhere.
“It was decided not to proceed with this restriction as, after consulting with a number of other member states, it was clear that a significant number of other countries did not plan to restrict pre-harvest usage on crops destined for human consumption,” said the department.
“It was considered that nothing in the Commission’s extension proposal would scientifically justify Ireland taking a different approach, in respect of its regulatory standard.”
However, the published correspondence shows the Department repeatedly stressed Ireland’s greater usage of glyphosate, because of adverse weather conditions here, compared to in other EU countries.
Finland, which Ireland consulted, replied that while it was not imposing new restrictions on glyphosate, that was because it was hardly ever used on food crops there, as the public would not accept food treated in this way.
Green Party councillor Ossian Smyth, who is campaigning for a ban on glyphosate in public parks and playgrounds, called for pesticide and herbicide regulation to be removed from the Department of Agriculture.
“There’s a fundamental conflict of interest in expecting that the Department of Agriculture can both regulate the use of pesticides and also promote the financial interests of the farming industry, because the two things can sometimes be in conflict,” he said.
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