Casual Gardener: Weedkiller spells chemical bother

Golfers are afraid of a dandelion epidemic
Golfers are afraid of a dandelion epidemic Golfers are afraid of a dandelion epidemic

GOLF is the gift that keeps on giving when it comes to finding fresh reasons to disparage it. A report last weekend told how golfers in the Republic were facing an "epidemic of dandelions and daisies" when a new EU directive comes into force next year.

The Sustainable Use Regulation (SUR) aims to curtail the use of pesticides and other chemicals harmful to plants, animals and people.

According to Carr Golf, the south's largest golf services business and all-round ruiner of good walks, the ban will severely hinder the management of weeds, disease and turf loss on golf courses.

"What we need is Europe to consider exempting golf courses from the definition of sensitive areas," Carr Golf's Ed Pettit told the Sunday Times.

"Lumping it in with public parks and playgrounds and roads is nonsensical."

The golfists' plea to be treated as an exception highlights a complete blindspot to the value of pollinators and a failure to see the bigger picture. Rather than embrace a landscape that's richer in biodiversity and presents new but not insurmountable challenges to the game's exponents, they wish to maintain sterile, artificially green courses using chemicals that poison the earth and every living thing nearby – and all based on a bland aesthetic.

What made the call for a derogation of some description all the more remarkable was that it came just a matter of days after research by the University of Galway showed almost a quarter of people in the Republic had low level traces of glyphosate in their bodies, including children.

Glyphosate is the active ingredient in commercial weedkillers like Round-Up, whose manufacturer Bayer has settled nearly 100,000 lawsuits in the US, totalling $10.9 billion. Yet Bayer denies claims that its product causes cancer. The global scientific jury is still out, however, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) concludes that glyphosate is unlikely to pose a carcinogenic hazard to humans.

In the Republic, half of glyphosate’s use is on farms, while the rest is applied on road verges, in parks, on golf courses and, of course, in gardens. Dietary exposure to pesticides can occur through ingestion of residues on fruit, vegetables, grains and contaminated water or via skin contact or inhalation exposure when glyphosate-based products are applied.

“This study produced important results on human exposures to a chemical of public concern and is particularly timely with the European Commission currently re-evaluating glyphosate,” said Dr Alison Connolly from University of Galway.

Though the quantifiable levels were low, she said it was essential to understand how chemical exposures can occur among different groups, particularly vulnerable people such as children.

“This information is necessary for conducting robust regulatory risk assessments, managing exposure levels, and fully understanding their effect on human health. This study also demonstrated how beneficial human biomonitoring is for evaluating chemical exposures,” she said.

Evidence of glyphosate's effect on human's who've ingested it passively is still unclear but its impact on vegetation, along with any invertebrates who call that vegetation home, is clearly apparent. Over the course of a few days, healthy green grass turns an unsavoury urine yellow before leaving scorched, bare earth in its toxic wake.

If you still use weedkillers to maintain a 'tidy' appearance, I suggest you update your gardening philosophy to something more in keeping with the 21st century. And if you're a golfer who's worried about an epidemic of dandelions and daisies, may I suggest you take up botany.