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ENVIRONMENT

Deutsche Bahn to stop using cancer-linked pesticide on its tracks

German state-owned rail operator Deutsche Bahn is to stop using glyphosate on its tracks and is looking for substitutes to replace the weedkiller, one of its board members said in an interview Friday.

Deutsche Bahn to stop using cancer-linked pesticide on its tracks
A train traveling along Deutsche Bahn's A train along the Hanover-Würzburg route. Photo: DPA

“We want to set up a research project to find effective ways to operate our 33,000 kilometres of network without glyphosate to be environmentally friendly,” infrastructure chief Ronald Pofalla told the weekly business magazine WirtschaftsWoche.

The rail operator is Germany's largest user of glyphosate and buys nearly 65 tonnes of the herbicide per year to stop weeds from propagating on its tracks.

SEE ALSO: How Deutsche Bahn plans to improve its service and routes

German Environmental Minister Svenja Schulze welcomed the initiative.

“Glyphosate kills insects which is why we are going to ban it in Germany,” she told WirtschaftsWoche.

The World Health Organization classifies glyphosate as “probably carcinogenic”.

In December 2017, the European Union renewed the licence of glyphosate across Europe until 2022.

Among the possible alternatives Deutsche Bahn is looking at to kill off the weeds are “hot water, electric shocks or UV lights”, according to WirtschaftsWoche.

One of the best-known glyphosate-based products is the weedkiller Roundup manufactured by Monsanto, the US company recently taken over by Germany's Bayer, and which has been at the centre of several health-related lawsuits.

Last year, Deutsche Bahn transported a record 148 million people on its main lines in Germany while across Europe 2.6 billion passengers travelled on trains belonging to the red-and-white-liveried company.

SEE ALSO: How Deutsche Bahn plans to improve its service and staffing in 2019

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ENVIRONMENT

KEY POINTS: Why is Sweden planning to cull half its wolf population?

Sweden's government has announced that it will allow a major wolf cull this year, with hunters licensed to kill as many as half of the estimated 400 animals in the country. What is going on?

KEY POINTS: Why is Sweden planning to cull half its wolf population?

How many wolves are there in Sweden? 

Wolves were extinct in Sweden by the mid-1880s, but a few wolves came over the Finnish border in the 1980s, reestablishing a population.  

There are currently 480 wolves living in an estimated 40 packs between Sweden and Norway, with the vast majority — about 400 — in central Sweden. 

How many wolves should there be? 

The Swedish parliament voted in 2013, however, for the population to be kept at between 170 to 270 individuals, with the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency then reporting to the EU that Sweden would aim to keep the population at about 270 individuals to meet the EU’s Habitats Directive. 

In 2015, the Environmental Protection Agency was commissioned by the government to update the analysis,  and make a new assessment of the reference value for the wolf’s population size. It then ruled in a report the population should be maintained at about 300 individuals in order to ensure a “favourable conservation status and to be viable in the long term”. 

What’s changed now? 

Sweden’s right-wing opposition last week voted that the target number should be reduced to 170 individuals, right at the bottom of the range agreed under EU laws. With the Moderate, Christian Democrat, Centre, and Sweden Democrats all voting in favour, the statement won a majority of MPs.

“Based on the premise that the Scandinavian wolf population should not consist of more than 230 individuals, Sweden should take responsibility for its part and thus be in the lower range of the reference value,” the Environment and Agriculture Committee wrote in a statement.

Why is it a political issue? 

Wolf culling is an almost totemic issue for many people who live in the Swedish countryside, with farmers often complaining about wolves killing livestock, and hunters wanting higher numbers of licenses to be issued to kill wolves. 

Opponents of high wolf culls complain of an irrational varghat, or “wolf hate” among country people, and point to the fact that farmers in countries such as Spain manage to coexist with a much higher wolf population. 

So what has the government done? 

Even though the ruling Social Democrats voted against the opposition’s proposal, Rural Affairs Minister Anna-Caren Sätherberg agreed that the wolf population needed to be culled more heavily than in recent years. As a result, the government has asked the Environmental Protection Agency to once again reassess how many wolves there should be in the country. 

“We see that the wolf population is growing every year and with this cull, we want to ensure that we can get down to the goal set by parliament,” Sätherberg told the public broadcaster SVT.

Sweden would still meet its EU obligations on protecting endangered species, she added, although she said she understood country people “who live where wolves are, who feel social anxiety, and those who have livestock and have been affected”.

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