Puerto Rico Agriculture sec defends use of glyphosate
At hearing, Flores objects to Roundup ban, says it would raise costs for farmers, government
SAN JUAN — Puerto Rico Agriculture Secretary Carlos Flores objected Monday to the passage of a House of Representatives bill that would ban the use of the herbicide brand Roundup for weeding of public property.
Flores presented his opposition during testimony at public hearings the legislative body is holding as part of its consideration of House Bill 138, which was introduced by Puerto Rico Independence Party (PIP) Rep. Denis Márquez to create the “Prohibition of the Use of Glyphosate in the Weeding of Highways, Roads, Avenues, Streets and State or Municipal Roads, Irrigation Channels and Any Public Property Act.”
“I acknowledge that there is some concern about the overuse of this product. Although the concern is valid, we must understand that, if glyphosate is used according to the recommendation of the label, there should be no negative effect on the health of human beings and animals,” the secretary said during his testimony to the House.
The secretary argued that the herbicide has the lowest toxicological risk category (class 4) granted by the the World Health Organization (WHO) despite the same organization having designated the herbicide a potential carcinogen for humans.
In May, a federal jury in San Francisco found that the herbicide Roundup was “a substantial factor” in the cancer of a 70-year-old gardener.
Flores, however, insisted that the product has a very low toxicity, and that it has been approved by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). He said the prohibition of this product would prove deadly for Puerto Rico’s farmers, who use it as their first option in weed control. The official insisted that it was very unlikely that farmers use more than indicated “because it is an expensive herbicide and would be losing money.”
The EPA has an identification system based on colored bands on its products to advise about the precautions to be taken, red being the most dangerous and green having the lowest risk.
“Prohibiting the use of this product on public properties would have the consequence of preventing agricultural crops in them because chemical control of weeds is in many cases an integral part of crop production,” Flores explained, assuring that its prohibition would increase costs not only for farmers but also the Transportation and Public Works Department’s as well as the municipalities that use the product for weed control.
Flores recommended that the legislative commission refocus its bill on emphasizing education and training about the appropriate use of glyphosate and other pesticides instead of prohibiting their use. As he explained, that would reinforce compliance with the recommendations on the label and prevent improper use of the product.
During the hearing, the Agricultural Experimental Station, of the University of Puerto Rico, agreed with the Agriculture Department’s position.