Last week, protesters from Hackney Pesticide Free and Extinction Rebellion Hackney Families staged a die-in on the steps of Hackney Town Hall, calling for a ban on the use of the controversial glyphosate weedkiller which has been linked to cancer, harm to bees and other pollinators, and the subject of major lawsuits in the US as well as bans in European countries and around the world.
Although glyphosate is still licensed as safe by DEFRA, Hackney has already responded to campaigner’s fears by a 50% reduction in use. Councillor Jon Burke (Cabinet Member for Energy, Sustainability, and Community Services) addressed the protest (a crowd of around 250 including many young children), thanking them for attending, and promising a complete ban in several trial areas with a view to matching Hammersmith & Fulham’s successful cessation of glyphosate use which is now in its third year.
As well as the concerns to human health, campaigners spoke of the links to bee colony collapse, and the adverse effects of weedkillers on urban bio-diversity.
The Councillor wants to run trials to ensure that increased bio-diversity and weeds on London streets don’t become a magnet for other problems like trapping litter and plastics, and prefers a gentle approach, citing concerns that some citizens are used to and prefer clean streets free of plant-life.
In neighbouring Islington, the Labour leader Richard Watts is opposed to any reduction in glyphosate use, and in fact between 2013 and 2017, the council doubled the amount of the chemical sprayed in the borough. Mr Watts has dismissed health fears, comparing the risk to “working night shifts, going to the hairdressers, or consuming alcohol”.