In this “state of the science” review, PAN International presents a huge body of research documenting the adverse human health and environmental impacts of glyphosate and glyphosate-based products underscoring the need for a global phase-out. The monograph, on the world’s most widely used herbicide, commonly known by its original trade name Roundup, should serve as a wake up call for regulators, governments and users around the world.
Adverse human impacts detailed in the review include acute poisoning, kidney and liver damage, imbalances in the intestinal microbiome and intestinal functioning, cancer, genotoxicity, endocrine disruption, reproductive and developmental reduction, neurological damage, and immune system dysfunction.
Aggressive public relations and marketing by glyphosate’s developer, Monsanto, has resulted in the widespread perception that the chemical is ‘safe’. Registration processes continue to allow its use without raising concerns about its safety even as new data identifying adverse effects emerge.
This review dispels this myth of ‘safety’ and highlights the urgent need to re-examine the authorization of products containing glyphosate. A full chemical profile is presented, along with the regulatory status of products containing glyphosate in many countries and information on viable alternatives.
Glyphosate is included in PAN International’s “List of Highly Hazardous Pesticides” (1) targeted for global phaseout. The global network is calling for the herbicide to be replaced by agroecological approaches to weed management in diversified cropping systems and non-crop situations.
Glyphosate is sprayed on numerous crops and plantations, including about 80% of genetically engineered, or GE crops, as well as a pre-harvest desiccant, which results in high food residues. It is also widely used in home gardens and public places including roadsides, and semi-natural and natural habitats. Due to its widespread use residues are now detected in different types of foods, drinking water, wine and beer; and even in non-food products derived from GM cotton. The extent of human exposure is confirmed by the presence of glyphosate in human urine wherever it has been tested, principally in Europe and North America; it has also been found in breast milk in the USA.
The 2015 classification by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) of glyphosate as a probable human carcinogen resulted in widespread concern about its continued use, especially pre-harvest and in public places.
As a result, national bans and restrictions, and voluntary action by local authorities and retailers to curb use are rising dramatically. Sri Lanka was the first country to ban it completely, although the ban has recently been relaxed to allow use in tea plantations; Italy has banned pre-harvest use, and all use in public places and those frequented by children and the elderly; France is phasing out the use of pesticides in towns and public areas; and the European Union has extended approval for glyphosate for only 18 months instead of the usual 15 years. The research and evidence detailed in the review released today provides valuable scientific evidence for all communities wanting to follow these leads.
Environmental impacts detailed in the monograph are no less concerning, and include adverse effects on ecosystem functioning, pollination services, biological controls, soil fertility and crop health. Residues are widespread in the environment, including in rainwater, surface and ground waters, and the marine environment. Glyphosate can persist in some soils for up to 3 years; and there is some evidence of bioaccumulation.
Resistance to glyphosate is now recorded in 35 weed species and in 27 countries, mostly caused by the repeated use of glyphosate in GE crops, no-till agriculture, and amenity use.
The monograph also contains a useful section on alternative weed management and provides information on a wide variety of non-chemical approaches to weed management in various situations.