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Extinction Rebellion protesters call on Hackney Council to stop using 'toxic' glyphosate by end of 2019

PUBLISHED: 17:22 20 May 2019 | UPDATED: 17:51 20 May 2019

Families protest against Hackney council's continued use of glyphosate. Picture: Polly Hancock

Families protest against Hackney council's continued use of glyphosate. Picture: Polly Hancock

Polly hancock

Tots and their parents descended on the steps of the town hall and pretended to die from pesticide poisoning, as they called on Hackney Council to stop using glyphosate weedkiller.

Families protest against Hackney council's continued use of glyphosate. Picture: Polly HancockFamilies protest against Hackney council's continued use of glyphosate. Picture: Polly Hancock

A child on stilts wearing protective clothing led the 100-strong crowd of Extinction Rebellion campaigners, while other youngsters wore face paint and carried homemade banners saying "save the bees".

Cllr Jon Burke addressed the crowd, stating the council had made "radical" changes to reduce use of glyphosate, which is sold by Monsanto under the brand name Roundup.

The council doesn't now spray the chemical on its wild flower meadow, and has halved the amount it sprays on the streets to 600 litres.

Pressure has been mounting on the council for six years since it emerged £40,000 was being spent annually on the pesticide - which was found to be "probably carcinogenic" to humans in 2015 by the by the International Agency for Research on Cancer.

Families protest against Hackney council's continued use of glyphosate. Picture: Polly HancockFamilies protest against Hackney council's continued use of glyphosate. Picture: Polly Hancock

But protesters said they had not gone far enough - so Cllr Burke promised to consider an outright ban after assessing the results of an upcoming pilot scheme to see if people drop more litter if weeds are allowed to grow.

Cllr Burke then answered questions from children concerned about the fate of butterflies and insects.

Jocelyn, 12, from Stoke Newington School, told the Gazette: "I've come down because the bees need our help. Without bees there will be no future for us.

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"We're doing it at the town hall because we want the councillors to listen to us."

Eliza Flanagan, 40, thinks it is "ludicrous" the council is still using glyphosate.

She said: "These elected representatives are defending large companies when there is a large amount of evidence that [glyphosate] is harmful. They are looking at the maintenance of streets and weeds. We need to look at the bigger picture."

Alex Armitage from the Green Party, an A&E doctor, says he is most concerned about the wider environmental effects of glyphosate - including, he believes, a reduction in the diversity of wildlife.

Families protest against Hackney council's continued use of glyphosate. Picture: Polly HancockFamilies protest against Hackney council's continued use of glyphosate. Picture: Polly Hancock

He said: "Looking at the bigger picture, this chemical is a disaster and we should stop using it immediately.

"We're living at the time of a mass extinction and we have a climate and ecological emergency on our hands.

"A few plants growing through the paving slabs here and there might be a good thing. We humans need reminding that we're part of nature and that we depend on our entire ecosystem for our ultimate survival. This is a philosophical issue as well as a practical one."

Cllr Burke told the Gazette afterwards: "Far from being concerned about residents and young children coming here I actively encourage it. I expect those campaigners to continue to hold me to account.

"The fundamental difference I have with them is the pace with which we significantly remove [glyphosate].

"I have heavily engaged with the literature. In reality, if we thought there was any threat to public health and safety we would have already banned it."

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