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Alliance statement on BCC’s report of glyphosate-free trial

[As submitted to 24 April meeting of Neighbourhoods Scrutiny Commission, ]

We read the report upon the trial of glyphosate-free weed control in Cotham with interest. As an Alliance of local groups working for a safe and healthy urban environment, we are deeply disappointed by the recommendation to continue the use of glyphosate in public spaces. We hope that Bristol City Council will reject this in favour of a more progressive policy, which seeks to emulate best practice in other cities associated with green leadership, rather than to continue an increasingly unpopular and risky form of weed control.

The report describes the controversy around glyphosate, which has come to resemble trench warfare – with both sides bitterly contesting every piece of science that comes out upon its suspected links to cancer. This is a battle for the regulatory future of glyphosate across the European Union, as used for agricultural as well as amenity purposes. As a city, we do not have to wait for a saga in Brussels to play out in order to make the right choice for parks, streets and play areas used by thousands of people every day.

The report argues it is “difficult [for] policy makers to decide of course of action with this divergence of views”. We argue it is actually very simple, in cities like Bristol at least, where public concern about toxic weed killers presents local authorities with a mandate to substitute less harmful alternatives, as other British towns and cities are starting to do.

We therefore urge Bristol City Council to re-iterate its commitment to phasing out glyphosate sprays and set a target date for achieving this goal.

We also encourage BCC to follow through on some of the report’s other recommendations – in particular the specification of safer weed control methods within the city’s contracts, and the city-wide review of weed control.

Both of these opportunities hold promise, but need to be elaborated in more detail. The city-wide review (for instance) could be folded into our own recommendation, to convene a task force to assess the current situation including contracts and costs, and plan the adoption of proven alternatives to glyphosate. And as the paying customers of weed control companies, it behoves BCC and local authorities to take a more robust approach to contractors who refuse to provide the full range of alternatives that modern cities expect.

For so long as BCC does continue with glyphosate, we call on the Council to make good on promises within its existing pest management policy relating to public information. There should be much better disclosure (including signage) about where and when applications of glyphosate (or other pesticides) are to take place. At the moment such information is entirely lacking, and has led to several incidents reported to us of pets suffering poisoning after exposure to recently-treated weeds, and of glyphosate sprayers operating in close proximity to young children.