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Last edited on: 31:03:2017

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Glyphosate - the basics: Our Q&A

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The key questions about glyphosate answered
 

Glyphosate is the active ingredient in the world’s most widely used weed killer, one of the most recognisable brands is Roundup. It is widely used in the UK and internationally in variety of different areas – in farming, sports grounds, golf courses, public open spaces, railway lines, private gardens – and has been used safely for more than 40 years.

Glyphosate is one the most effective plant protection products in the world. In UK farming it is used in stubble fields for weed control before planting and before new crops start to appear. It is also used on some cereals and oilseed rape crops in the field, before harvest.  Glyphosate is used to ready the crop for harvesting, control weeds that are difficult to control at other times, reduce disease and the potential for natural contaminants to develop, and to curb the number of weeds in the following season. It also reduces the need for ploughing, which helps the environment through reducing CO2 emissions, minimising soil erosion, and improving soil quality.

Last year, following a review of the evidence surrounding its safety, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) recommended glyphosate be reauthorised for use in the EU for 15 years. This would normally have been approved by the EU. However, because pesticide issues are politically sensitive (pesticides are a reality, but not a vote winner), a number of countries abstained from voting in favour of the recommendation. Eventually, glyphosate was reauthorised for use by European Commissioners for 18 months with some restrictions attached. This was to allow further investigations to be carried out and the results of a safety review by the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) to be published. On March 15 2017, ECHA's Committee for Risk Assessment announced it had finished its review of the available scientific evidence and reached the conclusion that glyphosate is not a carcinogen and does not cause genetic or reproductive effects. A decision on the reauthorisation of glyphosate is due to be made by the European Commission before the end of 2017.

Glyphosate is one of the safest plant protection products in the world. In March 2017 the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) concluded glyphosate is not a carcinogen and does not cause genetic or reproductive effects. This conclusion followed an extensive review of the available scientific evidence and supports those made by regulatory bodies around the world have looked at the scientific evidence and concluded that glyphosate poses no risk to people when used correctly. The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) carried out a review which concluded that glyphosate poses minimal risk to non-target plants and animals when used appropriately. These conclusions were consistent with the outcome of other regulatory evaluations of glyphosate around the world, in countries including the United StatesCanadaAustraliaNew ZealandGermany and Switzerland – all of which supported the conclusion that glyphosate posed no unacceptable risk when used correctly. This view was also upheld in a joint report from the World Health Organisation and the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the UN. The only body to conclude that glyphosate might pose a health risk is the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) which concluded it is “probably carcinogenic to humans”. IARC looks at whether it is possible something can cause cancer under any circumstances – a hazard-based approach. Regulatory agencies like the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) look at whether the levels of products encountered by people like farmers or consumers in everyday life can cause cancer – a risk-based approach. According to IARC’s classifications, drinking very hot drinks, working as a hairdresser, and working night-shifts are as likely to cause cancer as glyphosate; sunlight and drinking alcohol are more likely to.

According to research by independent agricultural consultants ADAS, the loss of glyphosate would lead to a 17 per cent fall in wheat production and a 15 per cent drop in oilseed rape production in the UK. This means the UK alone would need to find 546,000 hectares more land – an area nearly three-and-a-half times the size of London – to grow the same amount of food. The loss of glyphosate would also have a number of significant environmental impacts, including a 25% increase in greenhouse gas emissions from changes to agricultural practices. Soil quality would be damaged as more ploughing would be needed and bird habitats would be destroyed because of the need for increased mechanical weed control.


 

What is glyphosate?

Glyphosate is the active ingredient in the world’s most widely used weed killer, one of the most recognisable brands is Roundup. It is widely used in the UK and internationally in variety of different areas – in farming, sports grounds, golf courses, public open spaces, railway lines, private gardens – and has been used safely for more than 40 years.


 

How and why is glyphosate used?

Glyphosate is one the most effective plant protection products in the world. In UK farming it is used in stubble fields for weed control before planting and before new crops start to appear. It is also used on some cereals and oilseed rape crops in the field, before harvest.  Glyphosate is used to ready the crop for harvesting, control weeds that are difficult to control at other times, reduce disease and the potential for natural contaminants to develop, and to curb the number of weeds in the following season. It also reduces the need for ploughing, which helps the environment through reducing CO2 emissions, minimising soil erosion, and improving soil quality.


 

What is the issue with glyphosate?

Last year, following a review of the evidence surrounding its safety, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) recommended glyphosate be reauthorised for use in the EU for 15 years. This would normally have been approved by the EU. However, because pesticide issues are politically sensitive (pesticides are a reality, but not a vote winner), a number of countries abstained from voting in favour of the recommendation. Eventually, glyphosate was reauthorised for use by European Commissioners for 18 months with some restrictions attached. This was to allow further investigations to be carried out and the results of a safety review by the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) to be published. On March 15 2017, ECHA's Committee for Risk Assessment announced it had finished its review of the available scientific evidence and reached the conclusion that glyphosate is not a carcinogen and does not cause genetic or reproductive effects. A decision on the reauthorisation of glyphosate is due to be made by the European Commission before the end of 2017.


 

Is glyphosate safe?

Glyphosate is one of the safest plant protection products in the world. In March 2017 the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) concluded glyphosate is not a carcinogen and does not cause genetic or reproductive effects. This conclusion followed an extensive review of the available scientific evidence and supports those made by regulatory bodies around the world have looked at the scientific evidence and concluded that glyphosate poses no risk to people when used correctly. The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) carried out a review which concluded that glyphosate poses minimal risk to non-target plants and animals when used appropriately. These conclusions were consistent with the outcome of other regulatory evaluations of glyphosate around the world, in countries including the United StatesCanadaAustraliaNew ZealandGermany and Switzerland – all of which supported the conclusion that glyphosate posed no unacceptable risk when used correctly. This view was also upheld in a joint report from the World Health Organisation and the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the UN. The only body to conclude that glyphosate might pose a health risk is the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) which concluded it is “probably carcinogenic to humans”. IARC looks at whether it is possible something can cause cancer under any circumstances – a hazard-based approach. Regulatory agencies like the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) look at whether the levels of products encountered by people like farmers or consumers in everyday life can cause cancer – a risk-based approach. According to IARC’s classifications, drinking very hot drinks, working as a hairdresser, and working night-shifts are as likely to cause cancer as glyphosate; sunlight and drinking alcohol are more likely to.


 

What happens if we lose the use of glyphosate?

According to research by independent agricultural consultants ADAS, the loss of glyphosate would lead to a 17 per cent fall in wheat production and a 15 per cent drop in oilseed rape production in the UK. This means the UK alone would need to find 546,000 hectares more land – an area nearly three-and-a-half times the size of London – to grow the same amount of food. The loss of glyphosate would also have a number of significant environmental impacts, including a 25% increase in greenhouse gas emissions from changes to agricultural practices. Soil quality would be damaged as more ploughing would be needed and bird habitats would be destroyed because of the need for increased mechanical weed control.


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