Kenya has no plans to ban a widely used weed killer that has become a focal point of attention globally over concern that it causes cancer.
In the wake of a US court ordering Bayer/Monsanto to pay damages of $2 billion to a man whose cancer was said to have been partly caused by the Roundup herbicide, regulators are under pressure to ban the use of glyphosate.
The case is one of more than 11,200 similar cases in the US involving Roundup, which Bayer/Monsanto has consistently denied causes cancer.
France has become the first country to announce plans to eliminate glyphosate use by 2021 with limited exceptions. Other countries have announced intentions to outrightly ban or impose restrictions on the use of glyphosate-based herbicides, including Roundup.
In Kenya, agronomists and coffee marketing agents have raised the red flag over the use of harmful weed killers that are used on coffee, tea and sugarcane farms.
“The country risks losing international markets for some of its cash crops due to continued use of such herbicides as 2,4-D and Roundup, believed to cause life-threatening diseases like cancer,” said Kamau Kuria, the managing director of Coffee Management Services Mills.
However, the Pest Control Products Board (PCPB) has ruled out any intentions to ban glyphosate based products.
“We are monitoring the debate going on globally, but as far as we are concerned glyphosate will continue to be available for use by farmers in Kenya because there is no scientific proof it causes cancer,” said Peter Opiyo, PCPB chief executive.
Glyphosate is an active substance used in plant protection products as a herbicide to control weeds. It is the most widely used herbicide worldwide.
In Kenya, there are over 70 products registered containing glyphosate, out of 1,540 products approved for various uses in crop production. Based on the import permits and data for the past two years, about 2.6 million kilogrammes of glyphosate-based products are imported into the country annually.
In 2015, the International Agency for Research on Cancer classified glyphosate as probably carcinogenic to humans. According to some studies, glyphosate has been detected in the blood and urine of agricultural workers, indicating absorption, and in other reports the weed killer and its formulations induced DNA and chromosomal damage in humans and animal cells.
These studies have been contested by various scientists leading to continued use of glyphosate in many countries including the US, Canada, Australia and Japan.
“In Kenya, there are no reported adverse effects or cases of poisoning due to the use of glyphosate products, and we continue monitoring any new scientific data for decision making,” said Mr Opiyo.
He added that being non-selective, glyphosate is not applied directly on crops but to weeds, and therefore the possibilities of residues occurring in high levels in edible parts of crops is minimal if good plant protection practices are observed.
Studies suggest that glyphosate pollutes water sources, stays in soil far longer than previously suspected, and routinely taints human food supplies. The market value of glyphosate worldwide is forecast to increase from $8 billion currently to $10 billion by 2022.