Glyphosate – another tool in the crop protection tool box

Monday 9th July 2018

Glyphosate is the most commonly used herbicide in the world – and perhaps the most commonly misunderstood.

Every year, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, as much as 40 percent of the world’s potential harvests are lost to damaging insects, weeds, and plant diseases[1].

Farmers today have an incredible array of tools to protect their crops from these threats. Some of them have been used for centuries. Others have developed more recently. The key to the effectiveness of these tools is how farmers use them in combination with one another.

Throughout the history of agriculture, each new wave of crop protection innovation allowed farmers to be more efficient. Tillage reduced the need for hand weeding. Chemicals reduced the need for tillage. Genetically modified seeds reduced the need for insecticides1. Data analytics, combined with precision planting and spraying techniques, has made farmers even more efficient, helping them farm with less of an impact on our environment.

Farmers have always used a variety of methods to deal with weeds. Today’s farmer has more choices than ever before. Using multiple options together increases the effectiveness of each – and can even allow farmers to use less pesticide.

In the daily battle against weeds, the herbicide glyphosate is one of the tools farmers and communities use to control weeds in paddocks, playgrounds, public land and gardens.

Glyphosate is the most commonly used herbicide in the world – and perhaps the most commonly misunderstood.  In fact, from the tomatoes we eat in a summer salad to the cotton sheets in your bedroom, there is a high chance that glyphosate has been used to ensure these crops are healthy and not destroyed by weeds. Even the wine we drink is made possible by using herbicides to protect young vines from the weeds that compete for water and nutrients.  

When it comes to glyphosate, it’s important to sort the fact from the fiction. There are many papers and reports from scientific experts that examine how glyphosate works, it’s importance to the agriculture industry and how regulators ensure its safe use. There are some links to independent resources at the end of this article which might give you an even greater understanding of glyphosate.

In evaluations spanning four decades, the overwhelming conclusion of experts worldwide has been that glyphosate can be used safely. Like all pesticides, glyphosate is routinely reviewed by regulatory authorities to ensure it can be used safely. No other pesticide has been more extensively tested than glyphosate. More than 800 scientific studies and reviews, the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA), and regulatory bodies around the world support the safe use of glyphosate. The APVMA and other regulatory agencies around the world have concluded that glyphosate is not carcinogenic.

In November 2017, the US Agricultural Health Study[2] was released with a sample size of over 89,000 farmers and their spouses taken over 17 years. The study, published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, concludes that there is "no association between glyphosate and any solid tumors or lymphoid malignancies overall, including non-Hogkin Lymphoma (NHL) and its subtypes."

Glyphosate also has environmental benefits and has helped farmers use more sustainable methods of farming. The ability to effectively control a broad range of weeds has helped move farmers in Australia to a low-till or no-till system. This means crops and soil can be left alone to grow healthily, without turning to methods like tillage (mechanical cultivation of soil to kill weeds), which increases carbon emissions through fuel use and soil disruption.  

It’s not just farmers – and eventually your ability to buy inexpensive, reliable food at the supermarket – that benefit from the use of glyphosate. It’s also commonly used by gardeners and land managers in the community to make sure that weeds don’t overrun our local parks and forests. It’s even used extensively by backyard gardeners– over 120 products that contain glyphosate are registered for home and garden use[3].

As a certified, safe method for weed control, glyphosate is one option to manage weeds wherever they pop up - in a garden, field or park near you.

 

Infographic: What is Glyphosate?

 

Further sources of information:

Australian Government regulator assessment of glyphosate (Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority):

https://apvma.gov.au/node/13891

European Food Safety Authority assessment of glyphosate:

http://www.efsa.europa.eu/en/efsajournal/pub/4302

US Environmental Protection Agency assessment of glyphosate:

https://www.regulations.gov/document?D=EPA-HQ-OPP-2016-0385-0094 

The National Farmers Federation:

https://farmers.org.au/community/blog/glyphosate-deemed-safe-for-use-in-EU-08122017.html

 

[1] Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations, “Keeping plant pests and diseases at bay: experts focus on global measures”. Available at http://www.fao.org/news/story/en/item/280489/icode/

[2] Gabriella Andreotti, Stella Koutros, Jonathan N Hofmann, Dale P Sandler, Jay H Lubin, Charles F Lynch, Catherine C Lerro, Anneclaire J De Roos, Christine G Parks, Michael C Alavanja, Debra T Silverman, Laura E Beane Freeman; Glyphosate Use and Cancer Incidence in the Agricultural Health Study, JNCI: Journal of the National Cancer Institute, djx233, https://doi.org/10.1093/jnci/djx233 . The US Agricultural Health Study is a joint project completed by the National Cancer Institute, the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

[3] See the Public Chemical Registration Information System Search. Available at: https://portal.apvma.gov.au/pubcris