Clopyralid, a great start to ridding supermarkets of agrichemicals

Following a reassessment process, the Environmental Risk Management Authority (ERMA) announced yesterday that weedkillers containing the herbicide clopyralid will be taken off the retail market from 19 August 2008.

“Chemicals that require commercial operators to be trained in handling and use should not be available for retail sale where purchasers may have no experience or training,” said Soil & Health spokesperson Steffan Browning. “The urban home environment where most children live should be a toxin-free environment.”

Although better known in organic circles as compost killer, clopyralid is used in lawn sprays to maintain weed free lawns. Clopyralid residues do not break down in composting, and tiny amounts of contaminated lawn clippings could downgrade municipal composts, potentially damaging sensitive crops such as potatoes and tomatoes.

Chlopyralid is sold as: No Lawn Weeds, Clover and Prickle; Clopyd 300; Void; Tango; Vivendi 300; Multiple; Contest; Pirate 300; Cardo; Versatill Herbicide; Archer; AGPRO; Cloralid 300; Radiate; and Clout. Soil & Health recommends retail customers carefully look at labels to ensure that this chemical nuisance is removed as soon as possible.

Soil & Health has long lobbied for the removal of clopyralid because it limits the availability of municipal compost for organic vegetable growers, and the Association congratulates the eventual application to ERMA by commercial composter Living Earth, through the New Zealand Business Council for Sustainable Development, to have clopyralid taken off the market.

“ERMA’s continued allowance of clopyralid for agricultural weed control and commercial turf management use, means however, that there will still be composting piles of contractors’ grass clippings that are useless for growing vegetables,” said Browning, “Clopyralid requires UV sunlight to breakdown effectively and no matter how hot the depths of a compost heap, clopyralid persists.”

“Unfortunately ERMA hasn’t recognised that commercial and park operators were the original problem when contamination was first noticed in the United States about 20 years ago. Grass collected by contractors is still going into a heap somewhere. The still permitted use as an agricultural herbicide is also unnecessary as there are non-clopyralid options.”

“While the retail withdrawal is a very good move, ERMA needs to be taking bolder steps, by totally removing the risks associated with clopyralid for municipal composters and organic growers alike.”

Depending on the clopyralid product, labels will include, “The substance is not to be used on turf.” and “Treated vegetation shall not be disposed of at any green waste recycling centre.” “Ecotoxic herbicide. Not for use in home gardens.” “ Do not use for treating turf that will be mown and the clippings used for making compost; or made available for collection for, or deposited at, a municipal green waste recycling depot.”

Soil & Health however is concerned that ‘cowboys’ will still contaminate the compost and subsequent food chain. Regardless of warning notices, contamination has been a consistent feature for decades,” said Browning. “I have experienced it my previous glasshouse production several times and yet the composters were being assured by contractors that their material was ‘clean’.”

Soil & Health is also concerned that ERMA’s statement downgraded the very real experience of growers and composters when it stated, “The Agency considers that much of the information presented by the applicant on the effects of clopyralid contamination in compost only amounts to anecdotal evidence. This is because the methods used for the studies were not given or the methodologies used had significant shortcomings.”

“ERMA is rather narrow in its view around ‘expert evidence’, and fails to fully appreciate the experience of growers and composters. Chemical industry statistical science does not make anecdotal evidence any less valid. Precaution should not favour economics.”

Soil & Health has an Organic 2020 target for New Zealand where persistent chemicals such as clopyralid will not cause economic and health risks, and the environment and community health will always come first.

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