Glyphosate Facts

Transparency on safety aspects and use of glyphosate-containing herbicides in Europe


How is glyphosate used?

Last update: 14 November 2013

... history of glyphosate

The substance glyphosate was initially discovered in 1950 by a Swiss chemist, Henri Martin, at the pharmaceutical company Cilag. At that stage the product had no pharmaceutical purpose, and it was not until the seventies that glyphosate was discovered to have herbicidal activity. At that time Monsanto Company was testing different compounds as potential water-softening agents when it found that two molecules closely related to glyphosate had some herbicidal activity against perennial weeds. The scientist John Franz then synthesized derivatives of those two compounds and quickly discovered glyphosate to be a potent herbicide, which was subsequently patented under the trade name “Roundup®”. Roundup® was first commercialized in Malaysia for rubber and in the United Kingdom for wheat in 1974. The first US approval, also in 1974, was for industrial non-crop use. In agriculture, glyphosate was first developed for weed control in stubbles in all crops. Later its use was extended to include additional applications including pre-harvest in cereals and oilseed crops.

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Since its first introduction, glyphosate has become one of the most widely used broad-spectrum herbicides around the globe with a significant impact on worldwide crop production practices. For “the impact of glyphosate upon the production of agricultural food and fibre throughout the world”, the scientist John Franz received the U.S. National Medal of Technology in 1987.

Initially patented by Monsanto, glyphosate is now marketed by over 40 companies under an assortment of trade names, after its US patent expired in 2000. Glyphosate is now widely registered in all the countries of the European Union including France, Germany and Sweden, representing each of the regulatory zones, South, Central and North. Over 2000 plant protection products containing glyphosate are currently registered in Europe for use on croplands. Its broad-spectrum effectiveness and the simplicity of weed control have made glyphosate one of the most popular herbicides in agriculture, gardens and non-cultivated areas.

Last update: 25 October 2012

History of glyphosate

Last update: 31 October 2013

What is glyphosate?

Last update: 06 November 2013

Glyphosate, a tool for conservation practises

Regular deep ploughing to control weeds not only damages the soil structure, it also releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere when soil carbon is oxidised. Soil in Europe contains around 75 billion tonnes of carbon, or 7% of the total global carbon budget and approximately 0.6% of the organic carbon content lost to the atmosphere every year in England, France, Austria and Belgium. Scientists estimate that if Europe used only conventional tillage, the carbon dioxide emissions from cultivated soil would double 6. This is without taking into consideration the greenhouse gas emissions released from the fuel and energy consumed by ploughing machinery.

Achtung: verknüpftes Bild #1# muss vorher hochgeladen werden

Glyphosate in combination with minimal-tillage agriculture has also become a very useful tool for promoting soil protection, with plant residues from natural vegetation or from the previous crop left on the field. The fact that the ground is covered with crop residues (soil conservation practices should leave at least 30% of crop residues on the soil surface) preserves moisture but also encourages the development of a richer soil life, which can improve nutrient recycling. For instance, leaving the soil undisturbed results in a higher number of earthworms and increased levels of organic matter in the long run.


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The problem of soil erosion in Europe
Ploughing or spraying? Protecting Europe’s soil with minimized soil disturbance

Last update: 21 January 2015

The problem of soil erosion in Europe

Ploughing is one of the earliest methods farmers used to control weeds. The perception behind ploughing is that by turning the soil, it brings fresh nutrients to the surface while incorporating weeds and remains from the previous crop, providing a clean seedbed for the next crop.

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However, generally speaking, conventional tillage also means that 15-20 cm of topsoil is disrupted, and bare soil is exposed to the erosive action of water and wind. Deep ploughing acts negatively on biodiversity in that organic matter is diluted and the degradation processes of top soils are accelerated.  In addition, it can lead to the compaction of subsoil under the weight of machinery during cultivation. Unlike topsoil, subsoil is not loosened during ploughing. Compaction of subsoil affects the water-holding capacity of the soil and further accelerates erosion by increasing the risk of water run-off.

Approximately 20% of Europe’s total land area is estimated to be affected by water and wind erosion. Natural soil formation is a very slow process and any loss of topsoil of more than 1 tonne per hectare is considered to be irreversible within a recovery time-span of 50-100 years 3.


Cited references


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Ploughing or spraying? Protecting Europe’s soil with minimized soil disturbance
Glyphosate, a tool for conservation practises

Last update: 03 June 2013


Last update: 31 July 2012

Regulatory documents

Last update: 21 November 2017

A global herbicide with a number of benefits

Last update: 12 November 2012

Safety: Authorization of plant protection products

Last update: 11 September 2015