The debate about how to kill our weeds without killing ourselves continues: Dublin City Councillor Ciarán Cuffe called yesterday for a new approach to ridding the city of unwanted plants. He might get his wish.

Two weeks ago, Dublin Inquirer highlighted the fact that Monsanto’s Roundup might cause cancer. A study by the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer has found that the herbicide’s active ingredient – glyphosate – is probably carcinogenic for humans.

Inquiries by Cuffe, of the Green Party, had revealed that Roundup Biactive is the only weedkiller the council uses on Dublin’s streets.  At the council’s central area committee meeting yesterday, Cuffe put forward a motion calling on the council’s chief executive to investigate alternatives to Roundup.

Cuffe’s motion was passed and he said he was pleased with the support of his colleagues in the council. Councillor Nial Ring thanked Cuffe for bringing the issue to their attention.

In response to the motion, the executive manager said that there are a number of alternative products on the market, but they all also contain glyphosate, just like Roundup. However, the council has agreed to investigate alternative products and seek approval from the Department of Agriculture to use them on the streets.

Dublin City Council is currently carrying out an assessment of herbicide use in Dublin, said spokesman Paul Finan. “This will be reported to the city council in due course with a view to eliminating or minimising its use,” he said.

Cuffe suggests options such as rock salt and boiling water. Though he admits that these both have their downsides, he would like to see them trialled.

Better cleaning would also help, making the streets less hospitable places for weeds to grow, Cuffe says. But he believes that the best option is to go back to pulling weeds the old-fashioned way, with shovels, spades and hands.

You may have seen the council’s weed-killing contractors patrolling the streets in your area on quad bikes, shooting every wildflower in sight with Roundup. If not, it may not be too late to prevent your street from being sprayed. The council suggests that communities which don’t want the herbicide used in their area pull their weeds by hand, as contractors only spray places where there are weeds.

However, for those who like to see wildflowers growing on their streets, there doesn’t appear to be solution. “At a time when we ought to be encouraging nature in the city, it seems odd that we are pursuing a ‘scorched earth’ approach to wild plants,” says Cuffe.

While there are movements against the use of glyphosate in some countries, such as France, there isn’t one in Ireland. Cuffe, and the rest of the Green Party, hope the chemical can be phased out in light of the research that suggests that it is carcinogenic. But that’s not quite a movement.

Cuffe has a theory on the reason for the lack of uproar in Ireland. “It is new scientific evidence and I think people are still waiting to hear about this evidence,” he says

While the council is looking into the issue, ultimately, the use of herbicides is governed by national regulations, says Finan on behalf of the council. National policy will be informed by an ongoing EU review of the chemical.

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