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Issues associated with the use of the herbicide (weedkiller) glyphosate

Frequently Asked Questions About Glyphosate

Q1. What is glyphosate?

Glyphosate is the active substance in many herbicides (weed killers) and is widely used around the world. It is a non-selective, systemic herbicide /weedkiller and was first used in the UK in 1976.

Glyphosate is effective in controlling most weed species including perennials and grasses in many situations including amenity, forestry, aquatic and industrial situations. It is used by lots of people from farmers to foresters to gardeners to biologists trying to control invasive exotic plants.

Since it is approved for use in many countries, it has been subject to extensive testing and regulatory assessment in the EU, USA and elsewhere, and by the World Health Organisation.

Q2. Is glyphosate an organophosphate?

In pure chemical terms glyphosate is an organophosphate. However, it does not affect the nervous system in the way that other, now restricted organophosphate anticholinesterase, chemicals do, and does not cause the same effects on human health.

Q3. Is glyphosate a neonicotinoid?

Glyphosate is not a neonicotinoid; these types of pesticides are insecticides and are used to treat crops against the actions of certain insects such as pollen beetles.

Q4. Has glyphosate been subject to regular regulation checks?

The UK has a rigorous approvals process for pesticides. The main aim of the process is to protect the health of people, creatures and plants and to safeguard the environment.

All companies wishing to obtain approval for their pesticides are required to submit substantial data dossiers to support their applications. The extensive range of studies undertaken on pesticides is aimed at establishing acceptable safety for people, animals and the wider environment. This process has been applied to glyphosate which has been approved as safe and efficacious for a number of years now.

Q5. Is glyphosate subject to any continuing review of its safety?

In addition to the UK process, all pesticides are subject to the regular EU wide initial approval and review programme for active substances. The review programme makes sure that the data supporting their approvals meets modern safety standards.

Glyphosate is currently approved for use as a herbicide (weed killer) in the EU. Approval was granted in 2002, based on a review of mammalian toxicology, ecotoxicology and other data. The current  approval expires on 31 December 2017 at the latest. Further detailed information about the EU regulatory process with respect to Glyphosate can be found on the Official Journal of the European Union

Q6. What safety controls are there with respect to the use of glyphosate on genetically modified crops?

There are robust safety controls in place to ensure that GM crops will only be grown if the evidence shows that they will not compromise human health and the environment.

Q7 Are there any current authorisations for use of glyphosate on genetically modified glyphosate tolerant crops in England?

Only certain types of GM crop are associated with the use of glyphosate, so it is not inherent to GM-based production that glyphosate is required.

All the recent GM trials in England have involved crops which have nothing to do with glyphosate use (ie GM blight-resistant potatoes, nematode-resistant potatoes and aphid-repellent wheat);

No GM glyphosate-tolerant crops are approved for commercial cultivation in the EU.

Q8. What controls are in place on the use of glyphosate in parks and public spaces?

The risks associated with the use of pesticides in amenity areas such as parks are specifically considered as part of the authorisation process.

Legally enforceable conditions of use are imposed on the way products can be applied, to ensure the public are not exposed to levels of pesticides that would harm health or have unacceptable effects on the environment. It is important that users (or those who cause or permit others to use pesticides) not only comply with the authorised conditions of use but also use products in a responsible and sustainable fashion.

The responsible use of pesticides in amenity areas as part of an integrated programme of control can help deliver substantial benefits for society. These include: management of conservation areas, invasive species and flood risks; access to high quality sporting facilities; and safe public spaces (for example, by preventing weed growth on hard surfaces creating trip hazards), industrial sites and transport infrastructure.

Q9. Why does the Government not ban glyphosate?

The Government feels that the regulatory process for authorising plant protection products (PPP) is a robust system. The authorisation process takes into account all scientific knowledge available.

All products which contain glyphosate must be individually authorised in Member States. Applicants for authorisation must show that their products are effective, humane and pose no unacceptable risks to people or the environment. If their products were to pose such risks, they would not be authorised; or if such effects were discovered later, they would be withdrawn.

Neither the EU's assessment of glyphosate as an active substance nor the UK's assessments of applications for authorisation of products which contain it have found the substance unacceptable for use.

Updated 2016-08-03