ELAM Environmental Focus: Glyphosate

What Is Glyphosate?

Glyphosate is a non-selective widely used herbicide; by blocking an enzyme essential for growth, the herbicide kills most plants.  Glyphosate is also a crop desiccant. Applied just before harvest, it provides a means to more efficiently dry crops – especially grain crops.

Products containing glyphosate are sold in various formulations, including liquid concentrate, solid, and ready-to-use liquid. Glyphosate is used in products such as Roundup® in both agricultural and non-agricultural settings; farmers, gardeners, and caretakers of parks and gardens often utilize glyphosate to suppress weeds and prevent them from competing with desired plants. Top of Form

Roundup is currently the most widely and heavily applied weedkiller in the history of chemical agriculture worldwide.

 

Current Regulations & Controversy

Since its initial registration in 1974, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has reviewed and reassessed its safety and uses, including undergoing registration review – which programmatically evaluates registered pesticides every 15 years.

Glyphosate sale and distribution is regulated under the  Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA), focusing on its safety and efficacy. Glyphosate-based products must be registered with the EPA before they can be sold or distributed, requiring a submission of extensive scientific data.

EPA establishes specific labeling requirements for products containing glyphosate, including instructions for use, safety precautions, and warnings to minimize human health and environmental risks.

Maximum Residue Limits (MRLs) are set for glyphosate residue on food crops to indicate the permissible amount remaining post-application. EPA conducts risk assessments to evaluate health and environmental impacts, assessing carcinogenicity, reproductive toxicity, and effects on non-target organisms. Some states enforce their own regulations or restrictions on glyphosate use— including additional labeling requirements and/or usage limitations in specific areas.

Throughout EPA’s extensive investigations and assessments since its original registration, the Agency attains that when used according to the product label, glyphosate does not pose any risk to adults and is not likely to cause cancer in humans.

Other organizations supporting the EPA decision include the European Chemicals Agency, the Canadian Pest Management Regulatory Agency, the European Food Safety Authority, the Joint Food and Agriculture Organization/World Health Organization (FAO/WHO), and the German Federal Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

However, other institutes deem otherwise. Some studies have suggested a link between glyphosate exposure and certain health issues including cancer, reproductive issues, and birth defects. The International Agency on the Research for Cancer, deems glyphosate to be “probably carcinogenic to humans.” This claim is largely based on mice studies which demonstrated that a high consumption of glyphosate was linked to certain cancers, though the same was not seen in rats.

There are also concerns about the environmental impact of glyphosate, as it can persist in soil and water and potentially harm non-target plants and animals. Although known to degrade relatively quickly soil following application, glyphosate and its metabolites can persist in soil, water, and plant tissues in certain conditions. Research suggests that glyphosate may reach groundwater, surface water, and several other nontarget sites through processes such as leaching and surface runoff.

Based on current data, EPA has determined that the effects of glyphosate on birds, mammals, fish, and invertebrates are minimal.

The controversy surrounding glyphosate has resulted in a significant number of lawsuits against Monsanto, the manufacturer of Roundup and other glyphosate-based herbicides. These lawsuits allege that long-term exposure to glyphosate has caused individuals to develop cancer, specifically non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

In several high-profile cases, juries have ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, awarding them significant monetary damages. These verdicts have raised concerns about the safety of glyphosate and have prompted calls for increased regulation and further investigation into its potential health effects.

 

Conclusion

Addressing the controversy surrounding glyphosate requires a multi-faceted approach involving regulatory bodies, scientific research, industry stakeholders, and public awareness. There is a need for conducting more independent and long-term studies to evaluate both the health and environmental effects of the herbicide. In addition, alternatives to glyphosate should be researched and developed and regulatory agencies should continue to review and update standards based on the most updated scientific research.

A comprehensive and collaborative approach may be the only possible way to address the ongoing controversy – creating a safer and more sustainable approach to weed control and crop efficiencies.