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agriculture industry

Herbicide shortage will have major effect on harvests, farmers warn

Ban on glyphosate imports could cost 76 billion pesos this year, industry warns

The agriculture industry is predicting an economic cost of 76 billion pesos (US $3.4 billion) this year due to lower harvests as a result of a government-induced shortage of a controversial herbicide.

Farmers are expected to run out of stockpiles of glyphosate, whose import has been banned by the Ministry of Environment (Semarnat), during the fall-winter farming cycle, according to the National Agricultural Council (CNA), an industry organization.

The shortage will hurt seven million farmers and other workers economically dependent on the agricultural industry, according to two agrochemical industry organizations.

“The inventories are running out. We as farmers don’t have glyphosate for the … fall-winter cycle. If [the government] doesn’t lift restrictions so that imports can continue, the only thing it’s going to achieve is a major drop in the production of foodstuffs in the country,” said CNA president Bosco de la Vega.

Eliminating the use of glyphosate would reduce harvests — chiefly in grains — by 30% to 50%, said CNA treasurer Francisco Chapa, who discounted assertions that glyphosate is harmful to humans.

An agrochemical industry spokesman said the industry has not been able to find a substitute for glyphosate that is nearly as effective. He also claims that the importation ban is not based on scientific evidence and is hurting agriculture.

In use worldwide since 1974, the herbicide is one of the most used in U.S. agriculture and forestry and is the main ingredient in the herbicide known as Roundup. Because glyphosate indiscriminately kills plant life, in agriculture it can only be used on crops genetically modified to tolerate it.

In recent years, its use has become controversial. According to Semarnat, the herbicide’s use has increased fifteenfold worldwide since 1996 and is used by 45% of farmers. In 2015, a committee of the World Health Organization classified it as a probable carcinogen, although previous WHO studies in which glyphosate was fed to laboratory rats determined that it was not harmful to humans. France and Colombia have banned its use and some countries in Asia have placed limits on it.

Studies in the U.S. have determined that glyphosate’s toxicity meets safety limits for humans. However, the National Pesticide Information Center, a collaboration between the University of Oregon and the Environmental Protection Agency, also notes that other products often contained in glyphosate compounds can cause skin or eye, nose, and throat irritation if users are directly exposed to spraying. 

In Mexico, the National Council for Science and Technology has found links between the herbicide and the increased incidence of more than 20 cancer-related, endocrine, and other illnesses. Semarnat wants to see the gradual elimination of all use of the herbicide within four years, according to a plan rolled out Tuesday by Environment Minister Victor Manuel Toledo in an interview with the newspaper La Jornada.

President López Obrador came out in support of the minister this week, saying he supports Toledo’s plan to end glyphosate use.

In a press release last November announcing the ban on imports, Semarnat said the ban is not only to protect humans but also the environment, especially pollinators. Restricting glyphosate’s use will also reduce the agricultural industry’s use of genetically modified crops, the release said, since only such crops can tolerate the herbicide’s use.

Semarnat’s position appears to have put it at odds with the Ministry of Agriculture, which has called for studies to be carried out over the next four years to determine the safety of the herbicide.

Sources: Reforma (sp), La Jornada (sp)

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