Awareness over the impacts of glyphosate on humans, animals and the environment has grown slowly, but steadily in the last two decades. By now a lot of organisations around the world campaign against the use of this ingredient in herbicides for agriculture and gardening. Moreover, many local or central governments around the world have taken steps to limit its use to various degrees (as well as some municipalities in the UK). However, at the same time the use of glyphosate has increased, as it has for many decades it has been considered 'the way to do work'.
In the UK, glyphosate and similar products are so easily accessible that they are even sold in supermarket stores that sell food a few metres further down the aisle. Gerald Miles, our agri-activist host and mentor, has felt like doing something about it since a long time, and I was very eager to join.
Although the puzzle of scientific knowledge about the exact risks and the acceptable limits is not complete, enough is known about glyphosate to accept that it does cause harm to humans, biodiversity and ecosystems more broadly. And what is often missed in this debate is the widely accepted principle in biology that harmful chemicals with carcinogenic effects have a cumulative effect. This must be made clear and communicated appropriately to decision-makers and the general public; even more so, because the industry will keep trying to cover up the unfavourable evidence. Searching for information, one can easily find out the scandalous efforts of companies and governments to cover up the negative research results (most importantly 'the Seralini affair'). And it is certain that corporate connections in high-level politics play a role.
What is very critical at the political side at the moment is the debate that will take place at the highest level of EU institutions regarding the re-licencing of glyphosate. The Health Commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitis defends a reauthorisation process whereby companies would be allowed to sell it for another ten years. The debate is expected to last and seems to get heated up as France has openly expressed its opposition to the proposal.
Fortunately, there is increasing awareness and in many places: courts, governments and civil society have picked up on the evidence. For example, deciding on a relevant court case on the 27th of January 2017, judge Kristi Kaetan ruled to label Glyphosate-containing products in the state of California as dangerous to human health, stating that "the chemical Glyphosate may cause cancer". Consequently, products that contain this compound are now labeled in the state of California, USA.
Therefore for all the aforementioned reasons and because we believe that this a case where change cannot come without pressure from society, we decided to take action and get coordinated with other activists to do the same. Consequently, we have initiated Agri-activism UK, a network of activists that work and campaign for important food and agriculture issues.
By campaigning against glyphosate-containing products the network of grassroots activists that is 'Agri-activism UK' aims to raise awareness on the effects, as well as to challenge the legitimacy of the products. In short, we invite people to visit their local supermarket(s), fill up their trolley with glyphosate-containing products, ask to see the manager of the store(s) and question him whether – in light of the available evidence – he/she can guarantee that these products are safe to use.
The aims of this action are to raise awareness over the impacts of these products, and put pressure on supermarkets to take them off their shelves. Therefore we are asking people, who are concerned, to organise a simple action at a local supermarket store, where they live and where such products are sold. The intention is to have small actions all over the country.
It is the first time that an action of this kind has been organised around glyphosate (at least in the UK and to our knowledge), but certainly one that our network would like to organise again in the future: bigger and better, achieving a positive impact.
While we are aware that change will not come as easily and that we are only making a small start in places within our reach, we are sure that we are doing something worthwhile and in an appropriate manner. An update on the action will follow soon!