Agriculture Ministry Refuses to Ban Pesticides From Israeli Schools

This despite Health Ministry recommendation not to use glyphosate-based pesticides after WHO found them to be carcinogenic.

Zafrir Rinat
Zafrir Rinat
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A farmer spraying glyphosate in Illinois
A farmer spraying glyphosate in Illinois Credit: AP
Zafrir Rinat
Zafrir Rinat

The Agriculture Ministry has refused to restrict the use of pesticides in public parks or near schools, even though the Health Ministry recommended doing so because they are carcinogenic. The decision upset both the Union of Local Authorities and the Israel Union for Environmental Defense (Adam, Teva V’Din) NGO, which urged the ministry to reconsider its position.

About six months ago, after the World Health Organization concluded that the weed killer glyphosate was carcinogenic, the Health Ministry urged the Agriculture Ministry to restrict the use of pesticides that have glyphosate as an active ingredient.

Glyphosate-based weed killers are widely used both in agriculture and in cities, including on sidewalks, public parks and the grounds of schools and kindergartens.

Prof. Itamar Grotto, head of the Health Ministry’s Public Health Services department, recommended initially restricting the use of such pesticides in public parks and near schools.

Meanwhile, he said, an interministerial committee should be set up to consider regulating the use of glyphosate in agriculture and in other urban settings. Grotto’s appeal to the Agriculture Ministry was joined by the IUED and Herzliya Mayor Moshe Fadlon, head of the ULA’s health committee. Fadlon noted that his own city has already decided to stop using glyphosate-based weed killers, while the Kfar Sava municipality no longer uses pesticides at all.

Nevertheless, the Agriculture Ministry refused: “The ministry constantly examines the use of pesticides and their effect on health,” it said in a statement, and has concluded that glyphosate-based pesticides are safe as long as they are used in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions, as written on the package.

“Nevertheless, when the school year opened we made it clear that weed killers shouldn’t be used while children are in these places,” the statement added. “The ministry is continuing to examine the issue in cooperation with the OECD’s member states. The European Food Safety Authority recently issued a clarification saying that after further study of this pesticide, no evidence was found that it is likely to be carcinogenic, and therefore it can still be used without fear in accordance with the permitted uses listed on the package.”

But Sarit Caspi-Oron of the IUED disagreed, saying, “No pesticide should ever be used near buildings where children are present.” The Agriculture Ministry’s restrictions are insufficient, she argued, because even if weed killer is used only when a school or park is empty, traces could still remain when the children return. She also said the WHO opinion is “scientifically more comprehensive and thorough” than that of the European agency.

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