Nearly 60,000 acres of land in the North were sprayed with the controversial herbicide glyphosate in the last two years for which data was available, the 'Journal' can reveal.
Figures obtained from the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) show 59,673 acres of land were sprayed with 18,071 kilogrammes of the weed-killer in 2014.
And 56,886 kilogrammes were sprayed with 16,476 kilograms in 2016. Back in 2015, the World Health Organisation's (WHO) International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) concluded that herbicidal glyphosate was "probably carcinogenic to humans".
However, DAERA has pointed out that the European Union recently re-approved the use of herbicides containing the chemical and that it is likely to continue to be used here until 2022 at least.
The department has newly released the figures above in response to a Freedom of Information request. They refer to the annual usage of products containing the active ingredient glyphosate and the acreage includes areas of land that have had more than one application over the course of a year.
DAERA insists the use of the chemicals is safe.
It stated: "Pesticide usage monitoring forms an integral part of the government's pesticide safety control arrangements, in providing quantitative and qualitative data on the usage of pesticides in agriculture and horticulture.
"In Northern Ireland this monitoring is carried out by the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute (AFBI) on behalf of the Department. Pesticide usage reports are produced bi-annually and as such there is no data available for 2015 or 2017."
The Department said there was no data available for 2019 or 2020 at present.
"All pesticide approvals are subject to periodic review and the approval of glyphosate has recently gone through this process. On 28 November 2017, the EU re-approved the continuing use of glyphosate. Reviews of the scientific data by the European Food Safety Authority and the European Chemicals Agency’s Committee for Risk Assessment found no safety concerns that would prevent continuing approval, and UK scientists agree with this
"The UK government supported the continued approval because glyphosate meets our high standards for the protection of health and the environment. The current EU approval lasts until 15 December 2022; use beyond that date would be subject to a further decision," DAERA declared.