The president of the University of California has banned the use of the pesticide glyphosate from its campuses - where 200,000 students attend - in the wake of health fears.
The universities' decision cites "concerns about possible human health and ecological hazards, as well potential legal and reputational risks associated with this category of herbicides."
Glyphosate is the active ingredient in the Monsanto weed killer products Roundup and Ranger, as well as over 700 other commercial herbicides. Glyphosate herbicides and the manufacturer Monsanto were just implicated in a third lawsuit, where the plaintiffs were awarded over $2 billion dollars.
The suspension follows a campaign to end the use of herbicides across the University of California campuses by Herbicide-Free UC.
This initiative started out as an Herbicide-Free Cal campaign that was founded by two UC Berkeley student-athletes in 2017, Mackenzie Feldman and Bridget Gustafson, after they were made aware of herbicides being used around their volleyball court.
At the UC Berkeley campus, the Herbicide-Free UC students worked with the Grounds Operations Manager to pilot herbicide-free practices on two large campus spaces and nine smaller spaces during the 2018-2019 school year. After graduating, co-founder Mackenzie Feldman expanded the campaign UC-wide.
Feldman said: "It would be irresponsible for the University of California to not take action at this point, especially after three separate juries in the state of California have decided that Monsanto's glyphosate-based herbicides cause cancer." She met with a UC Regent, who became interested in the issue.
Feldman continued: "Being at the first trial, Johnson v. Monsanto, and hearing Lee Johnson's story made me realize that I needed to expand this campaign beyond Berkeley. This work is too important not to do. If I can prevent even one groundskeeper from getting cancer and going through what Lee is going to, then I must."
Herbicide-Free UC released the following statement: “We are thrilled that the UC President and Regents have made the decision to ban glyphosate, but feel that there is no need to wait for more research to make the ban permanent.
"The science is clear: a number of the chemicals utilized by the University of California or its subcontractors pose a serious health risk to students, faculty, and staff. The University of California’s own faculty were even involved in designating many of these chemicals as dangerous.
"We are asking for a permanent glyphosate ban, as well as a ban on all Proposition 65 pesticides and other herbicides that cause harm to human health and the environment."
"There are many alternatives to harmful pesticide and herbicide use. Some costs are associated with adopting organic practices, yet when faced with the alternatives of legal liability, and the human cost of harming members of the UC community with these practices, we think the costs of maintaining our current policies far outweigh the costs of switching to organic land management practices.
"We will keep working with the University of California to transition each campus to all-organic land management practices.”
The decision is effective from 1 June.
Jonathan Latham is a molecular biologist and former genetic engineer. He now edits the website Independent Science News.