For many years I’ve used ammonium sulphamate as a weedkiller. It’s a very simple chemical, basically the same as sulphate of ammonia the nitrogen fertiliser but made crooked. I’m no chemist, but it was explained to me that it worked very much like carbon monoxide does in our bloodstream. The plants think they are taking in nitrogen fertiliser but, because the molecule is wrong, they can not use it and so die off.
It’s never been a cheap weedkiller, there’s not the volume to give real economy of scale, but it is very effective. It’s taken right down to the plant roots and it’s the most effective way to deal with an infestation of horse tail.
Because it is a simple chemical the environmental effects are easy to judge. When it is sprayed onto the soil any plants will die but gradually the effect of the oxygen is to turn it back into sulphate of ammonia, the fertiliser.
The worst case scenario is that the soil is made slightly more acid and the NPK balance gets affected for a short while.
This simple chemical formulation means that we know the risks to human safety pretty clearly. They’re not much different to the fertilizer. Obviously you’re not going to eat it in the same way you’re not going to eat a bag of fertilizer and if you did try the acidity and taste would stop you taking in enough to do harm.
Ammonium Sulphamate Banned!
The glorious EU, home for more bureaucrats than Whitehall, demands that manufacturers of pesticides supply a complete dossier on their product. That sounds a good idea – we don’t want another DDT Silent Spring. Let’s be safe. The term pesticide is taken to include:
- insect killers (insecticides)
- mould and fungi killers (fungicides)
- weedkillers (herbicides)
- slug pellets (molluscicides)
- plant growth regulators
- bird and animal repellents, and
- rat and mouse killers (rodenticides)
The company decides not to support the active substance through the review. This often happens if the pesticide is old and there are already more modern pesticides on the market, or because sales of the pesticide have fallen. It would not make sense for a company to spend a large amount of money supporting an active substance in the review if they could not get this back through sales of the pesticide.
So, as gardeners, we are unable to use a product known to be safe logically and proven safe for years because they suppliers cannot afford to prove it is safe.
It Gets Worse!
Now that we cannot get Amicide, Deep Root, Growing Success Bramble Killer, Root Out and other brands that contained ammonium sulphamate we’re effectively stuck with one product – glyphosate.
We’ve had a raging debate on the forums about the safety of glyphosate. It’s a complex chemical and there are conflicting views about its safety both environmentally and in its effects on human health.
My own view is that it is safe to use occasionally and carefully but not as safe as the simple, old fashioned ammonium sulphamate.
It’s also a weedkiller associated with gene modified crops, Make the crop resistant to the weedkiller and you can spray, spray, spray leaving the crop saleable. Note I say saleable not safe and healthy. Very profitable though, profitable enough to ensure the correct results are provided to the EU.
Good intentions carried to extremes by bureaucrats who can follow rules in great detail but cannot use common sense means we are denied a great safe product and the multi-national chemical conglomerate is sitting with a large smile.