What is glyphosate?
Glyphosate, or N-(phosphonomethyl)glycine, is one of the world’s most widely used broad-spectrum herbicides and accounts for around 25% of the global herbicide market. Glyphosate herbicides are frequently used in agriculture because they are a simple and cost-effective way of controlling weeds that can otherwise persist for years. Most glyphosate products are used in agriculture, but in some countries they are also used to control weeds in gardens and non-cultivated areas, such as industrial complexes and along railway tracks.
Glyphosate was first introduced in 1974 under the trade name “Roundup” and has since been marketed under a number of different trade names in hundreds of plant protection products around the world. In European agriculture, glyphosate-based herbicides are used to control weeds in a wide range of crops including cereals, oilseed rape, field beans, sunflowers, grain maize, sugar beet and grassland. Several European countries, including Germany, use glyphosate herbicides on almost half of their total crop area.
Glyphosate is usually sprayed on weeds in a diluted solution and is rapidly taken up by the plants. It works by blocking a metabolic pathway which is essential for the plant’s growth. This pathway is present in all plants, but does not exist in animals, which makes glyphosate a very effective broad-spectrum herbicide and contributes to its low toxicity in animals.
Another reason why glyphosate products are popular crop management tools is because they allow farmers to sow directly into stubble fields without ploughing (zero tillage). Glyphosate has replaced mechanical weed control in many crops and has had an important impact on agricultural practices and crop yields in Europe over the past few decades.
Last update: 06 November 2013