Monday 27 July 2015

Will impending changes to the pesticide regulations deny gardeners the opportunity to buy professional strength glyphosate?

I could not maintain six acres of gardens without using glyphosate

Hitherto it has been difficult for amateurs to legitimately purchase full strength glyphosate concentrate. Will dubious health and safety considerations be an excuse to completely close the market?

In addition, after 26 November 2015, it will be an offence for anyone to purchase PPPs authorised for professional use unless they have ensured that the intended end user has a certificate.

If you don’t already have a certificate, you will need to get one by 26 November 2015 so that you can continue to use PPPs as part of your job after that date.

You will find these two significant paragraphs in an anodyne amendment by The Health and Safety executive to the Pesticides Rules.

My concern is that this will firm up the distinction in the market between commercial sources of glyphosate and the watery tinctures sold to the general public in garden centres.
Note that to buy ‘proper’ glyphosate you will need a certificate. Note the subtle phrase 'as part of your job'.

I wonder what 'it will be an offence' really means. The amendment certainly offends me! Will the full force of the law fall on my head if I buy commercial glyphosate. I am fully certificated but I don’t have a job. Do I need to work on a farm or a country estate to obtain it? Do I need to pop over to France to buy it?

Glyphosate granddad: the grandfather’s rules.
When the pesticide rules were brought in late last century there was a concession that if you had been using pesticides on farms or horticultural holdings and you were born before 1964 you would not need the new certificates.
This concession is about to be withdrawn.

In practice to farmers this of little consequence. The word 'in the pub' is that most farmers have members of the family who do possess certificates. Failing that perhaps some of their employees, such as the apprentice who has done 'the tests' hold the relevant papers. And of course they can buy from a fellow farmer. There is not a farmer in the land who will stop using glyphosate. Some will become criminal of course.
I imagine you will be able to count on one hand the number of pensioner farmers who sign up for night school. Grannies, eggs and sucking come firmly to mind.

Consequences to owners of large gardens…  and folk who maintain cemeteries.

I could not have afforded to have created my little acre of Bolton Percy cemetery garden at amateur glyphosate prices

Four acres of Worsbrough cemetery would be a sea of five foot high nettles without using commercial glyphosate

I have written before about the extravagant garden centre prices of chemicals.
I buy my commercial glyphosate in large containers at the very keen pro rata price of £6 per litre. This is several times stronger than any glyphosate concentrate available at the garden centre and is perhaps a fifth of the price of the strongest garden centre source. At the moment many gardeners are able (legally? – but few really know)) to buy commercial glyphosate on the net and it might cost typically £12 per litre.

Let’s do some maths. Gardeners at the ‘soft end’ of the garden centre market buy already diluted ‘ready to use' glyphosate. I recently saw five litres  ‘reduced’ to £40 forty pounds. This would be enough glyphosate to a third fill my 15 litre knapsack sprayer. This is £120 a sprayer full and £240 for every monthly visit to each of my two cemetery gardens. Every month five hundred quid!

Another way to look at it is that each time I fill my knapsack with a diluted 200ml commercial concentrate it costs me one pound. Admittedly this is a quite weak concentration of a one in seventy five dilution but a hundred fold difference in price compared to that for anyone who buys ready-to-use glyphosate!

Most experienced gardeners buy garden centre concentrate and dilute it. I have not done the maths precisely but if you take the high price of a litre of garden centre concentrate and factor-in it’s strength you will pay as much as ten time more that those gardeners who use commercial glyphosate.

The law of unintended consequences
Not all gardeners use glyphosate. I know hundreds of respectable people from all walks of life. Of those that are gardeners I know none who use weedkillers who would have any reservations about using commercial Roundup when they can get hold of it. They accurately perceive it as a more concentrated and cheaper form of a very safe and effective weedkiller. They are right. If it really is illegal - but the law is so obfuscated that this is not clear - then a lot of normally law-abiding citizens are committing a crime. That can’t be right.

If people fear that the new amendment which comes into force on the 26th of November will make it more difficult to obtain their supply they will buy it and horde it. I hear anecdotes that ten year old glyphosate is every bit as efficacious as pristine product. Long term storage can’t be right either.
I emphasize that stored agrochemicals must be in a safe store behind lock and key.

The unintended consequence of enforcing two separate markets that I fear most is that gardeners might be tempted to accept supplies of concentrate from a registered user in other than it’s original container. Some agrochemicals in concentrate form really are dangerous.
I emphasize that all horticultural chemicals whether amateur or professional must always be kept in their proper fully marked and labeled containers.

Do the authorities really want to encourage folk who are deprived of their favourite weedkiller 360g/litre glyphosate to buy it legally in a supermarket in France?

Somewhere in France a gardener’s display of his herbicide containers. Bought at the amateur store they are all full commercial strength glyphosate.
nb it is important that empty pesticide containers are washed out into the spray tank
Why penalize the public?
 What has suddenly changed?

I know no suggestion that professional chemicals have become more dangerous. Rather the opposite.

I know no evidence that those amateurs who use professional glyphosate do sillier things than those who buy the weaker version in the garden centre. Quite the reverse.

I see no evidence that professional users use glyphosate more carefully than amateur gardeners. Indeed some farmers are very complacent.

I do not understand that a very safe chemical in concentrated form suddenly becomes dangerous when its concentration is double or treble of what I can buy in a shop.
I emphasize that for all practical purposes glyphosate when sprayed on weeds and appropriately diluted is exactly the same whether bought as a trade chemical or as an amateur product.

The amended regulation will be represented as a simple rationalization of existing regulations. I won’t comment.

Why two markets?
It is right and proper that dangerous agrochemicals should be restricted. Most agrochemicals are safe but not all. It is not unreasonable that there are two separate markets. What is unfair is that responsible individuals are deprived from obtaining those professional products that are safe ones. It is not as if the relative safety data is unknown.

If only it was made clear that if an amateur gardener achieves his spray qualifications he can buy commercial glyphosate to spray in his garden. I really cannot figure out if this is so!

Two markets suits manufacturers and traders. Suppliers to amateurs can sell small quantities of weak glyphosate at inflated prices. These partially reflect the extra costs of retail and providing a service.
Professional suppliers are not really interested in the amateur gardener who buys very small quantities, asks too many questions and is administratively inconvenient.

Some horticultural sundries suppliers trade in both markets. When you go to their website many of them blank amateurs out of their trade pesticides section (pesticide is the generic legal term for all plant protection chemicals). I don’t think it is fair that they will only sell you the same chemicals in dilute amateur form with much juicier mark ups.


  1. And yet they allow the destructive hormonal herbicides to be used, Clout of large companies?

    1. Sadly the amateur gardener has no voice in government decisions. There is no organisation that is prepared to speak for them to authority.
      Unfortunately I feel that these days the horticultural profession has no effective voice either

    2. I also found that this was the case when we had the manure issue as there seemed to be no protection for the gardener in what he has sold to them. Many composts are not fit for purpose but they are still on the market.

  2. About 5 years ago Ontario suddenly installed a pesticide ban. Basically everything that was not organic was banned for use by the general public for esthetic purposes. Golf courses can still use them - I never understood that!

    Roundup was also banned. You used to be able to buy concentrate at local stores. Shortly after the ban, the government agreed to allow the sale of diluted Rounup to the general public, but only to combat health issue weeds like poison ivy. Well you know what happened - suddenly every body found poison ivy in their yards :)

    But now they are paying ridiculous prices - just like the UK.

    I am sure that a lot less Roundup is sold to the general public. But this will lead to more wide spread invasion of some pesty plants into native areas.

    In part I agree with the ban - but not the lack of concentrated Roundup. Many of the general public do not know how to handle chemicals and many want to spray some chemical at the first sign of any problem on a plant. I see it daily on social media: "my leaves don't look right - what should I spray?"

    1. Thanks for your very thoughtful response Robert. I do sympathise with you that you have a total ban. I guess we could chew the fat on this issue for hours. What appalls me about your situation is that organic is considered allowable and inorganic not. Why that is stone age thinking!

  3. I understand your frustration but can't agree with your statement that Glyphosate is a very safe chemical. Increasingly it is being realised that the criteria on which it (and other chemicals) were judged (LD levels, for example) are just not enough to measure the effects of these substances over time. Glyphosate has been shown to have a very undesirable effect on hormones when present in low levels, fuelling, for example, the growth of breast tumours. Ref:

    1. Thank you for your comment Helen. I don't propose to engage in a debate at this stage as people have very strong views on these things and for what you say about glyphosate, similar things can be said about almost any chemical in modern society. And what about natural poisons - peanuts anyone?
      Millions of tons of glyphosate are used worldwide and it has a remarkable safety record.
      Sorry you have got me going Helen...

    2. But it is something that needs discussing. Glyphosate has been marketed as totally safe for many years, and and I'd suggest that it's partly because of this that its use is so ubiquitous. Of course, toxicity is a problem with many chemicals, but few are as widely used and as widely thought of as safe as glyphosate, It doesn't really equate with peanuts and the like, which are an avoidable poison for those affected. And past research has not concentrated on the effect of repeated, low-dose exposure. Recent research found that a very high percentage of Britons had glyphosate in their urine, and part of the summary of research into glyphosate in cattle said last year:

      Chronically ill humans showed significantly higher glyphosate residues in urine than healthy population. The presence of glyphosate residues in both humans and animals could haul the entire population towards numerous health hazards, studying the impact of glyphosate residues on health is warranted and the global regulations for the use of glyphosate may have to be re-evaluated.

    3. I don’t take these issues lightly Helen and I am not against continuing research. I agree that because it is thought to be safe is one of the reasons for its wide use. Other reasons are that it is very effective for its purpose and contributes to efficient soil friendly - and I would argue in relation to minimum cultivation conserving organic matter environmentally friendly - agricultural production.
      My comment about peanuts was perhaps a cheap jibe but was meant to imply that natural poisons are all around us in what we eat and drink. Peanut sensitivities are not always an avoidable problem, you sadly read about them often occurring as unwanted constituents of manufactured foods.
      Natural toxins, man made toxins, manufactured pharmaceuticals, breakdown products of such as plastics, all manner of pollutants from industry and transport - I could go on - are present in our atmosphere. Tens of thousands of them and all known to be harmful in higher concentrations. Modern instruments can detect levels down to parts per billion - way below levels that can cause harm.
      This includes molecules of glyphosate which is very widely used and I repeat has a remarkable safety record. There are thousands of unwanted chemicals in normal urine. I repeat at minute levels. The kidney is a wonderful efficient organ of excretion and that glyphosate is present together with thousands of other chemicals - I am sure it is in my own - demonstrates the kidney efficiently doing its job.
      Where I might share with you the need for greater research is the use of glyphosate in ‘glyphosate ready crops’ where it is plastered over the whole crop that is to be consumed by us our used as fodder for farm animals. This is a far cry from using glyphosate to weed our gardens.

  4. Thanks for alerting us to this Roger. Does the new restrictions also apply to agritox?

  5. Yes Matt
    I am of course not certain what the authorities really intend Matt - like you will have I just read the amendment.

  6. Hi Roger, you really stuck your hand in a hot topic this time :-)
    I must admit I know far too little to contribute to the debate about safety around glyphosate, and to be honest, do we really know for sure how it affect humans, bees and environment short and long term? There is no shortage of theories – but I feel not convinced by either sides of their arguments and would like more facts.
    That said, your post didn’t really deal with that side of glyphosate, but an important observation I have noticed too – why is it so difficult to buy concentrate of certain things we use a lot of. This could apply to a lot of other products too, and since I buy everything I need online and have it delivered, for me it is important to buy small and add water at home. Earlier this year when I was battling fuchsia gall mite I struggled to find the right products to use as wherever I turned I could only find ready diluted and it would have cost me a fortune to buy the quantity I needed. As usual it was Amazon that saved me, it is amazing what you can find on Amazon if you search long enough! But it beats me too why it should be so difficult – why is it less harmful to the environment that I buy my products ready diluted, costing a fortune in packaging and delivery – and costing me a fortune to buy. The only one benefitting on this is the taxman, earning the VAT. The only difference between concentrated and diluted products is water, and I can manage to add that at home, really – I can! I can read, follow instructions, use a measuring cup and I have more than enough math knowledge to figure out how much solution and water to mix. Wouldn’t it be far more environmental friendly if we all used far more concentrated products??

    By the way, a quick search right now on Amazon for glyphosate resulted in lots of different products at reasonable prices, several types sold in 5 litre containers like Gallup and Clinic. Time will tell what happens after November…..

    1. Thank you HELENE for your thoughtful comments. Yes I have put my head on the block this time. I was not sure whether it better to rock the boat or keep my head down on this matter.
      Yes you are right this post was not about the case for or against glyphosate although your namesake has drawn me into the issue. I have been controversial enough for a while (oh dear my next post is about peat!)
      Thank you for broadening the debate by bringing in the waste of special packaging and transporting lots of water around in dilute products.

  7. Although I do not totally support the government legislation Roger, you are discussing the subject from the point of view of someone who knows what they are doing and, if you are anything like me, take these things personally and also as a matter of cost. When growers weren't so commercially orientated the biggest problem was persuading them that to increase the amount of chemical used above the optimum would not be any more effective, since everything is minutely costed and chemicals are ever more expensive this has now become the regulating factor. There is without doubt a vast difference between the potential effects of commercial usage and that of the amateur gardener as long as they stick to the instructions. Unfortunately the majority of people in a position to speak up for the amateur are too busy winning popularity by backing all trendy "green" measures and would probably back the banning of all chemicals in the garden anyway. Can't wait for the peat!

    1. Important points Rick - including the important comment that chemicals should be used at the correct concentration and in the case of glyphosate it is sometimes less effective if too strong.
      I think manufacturing costs are reflected in the prices of commercial products but in the amateur market chemicals are priced on what the market will bear.
      Your penultimate paragraph is particularly apposite to tomorrow's post about peat.


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