Glyphosate Facts

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


Response of the Glyphosate Task Force to the Friends of the Earth analysis

The German NGO BUND (Friends of the Earth) have presented a laboratory analysis today in which they have analyzed urine samples from 18 European countries looking for presence of glyphosate.

Glyphosate is one of the most widely used and most comprehensively assessed active ingredients in herbicides worldwide. All independent health assessments conducted by public authorities in Europe and internationally over the past 40 years have consistently concluded that Glyphosate does not pose any unacceptable risk to human health or the environment.

(© Darren Baker)

Based on the information available to us this study reflects the results of analyzing 182 urine samples from 18 countries. There is no information on how these samples were taken and no detail on possible dietary or operator exposure of the people from whom these samples were taken. We take this issue very seriously and would like to know more.

Existing data on residue monitoring show that Glyphosate levels in food rarely exceed the maximum residue limits determined as safe by regulators. It is not surprising to find Glyphosate in urine should a person ingest food with low residues of Glyphosate. Glyphosate is not metabolized by the human body but excreted into the urine and faeces. This is a well known aspect of Glyphosate that contributes to its comprehensive safety assessment.

The results of the study are not surprising or new, although it is unclear exactly how they have been generated and therefore what they mean. The results are consistent with monitoring studies reported more than 10 years ago. All independent health assessments conducted by public authorities in Europe and internationally over the past 40 years have consistently
concluded that Glyphosate does not pose any unacceptable risk to human health or the environment.

The EU evaluation for the inclusion of glyphosate on Annex I 1 of Directive 91/4141 covers excretion and  predicted concentrations, and this has been publicly available for 12 years. The occurrence of a residue in food does not necessarily indicate harm, and the EU and Member States regularly monitor residues but rarely find exceedance of the Maximum Residue Limits (MRLs) 2 allowed for glyphosate. Given that low levels of residues of glyphosate are permitted in food and are considered safe, it is not at all surprising that very low levels could be found in the urine of some people. Glyphosate is not metabolized by the human body but excreted into the urine and faeces.

In fact, most samples contained glyphosate below the level of detection and the highest value found was less than 2 microgram per litre (2 parts per billion).  A simple calculation shows that, as people typically produce about 2.5 litres of urine per day, then this highest value indicates the maximum systemic dose was 5 micrograms.  Oral intake to reach a systemic dose of 5 micrograms (30% gastrointestinal absorption) would be 16.7 micrograms ingested glyphosate; for a 60 kilogram person, this would be a dose of 0.28 micrograms glyphosate per kilogram body weight (or 280 nanograms glyphosate per kilogram), over 1000 times lower than the EU Acceptable Daily Intake (ADI) 0.3 mg/kg body weight per day (considered a safe oral exposure every day throughout one’s life without incurring any appreciable health risk).

This is unlikely to be of any significance to health because it is more than 1000 times lower than the EU ADI, and more than 3500 times lower than the equivalent value from the World Health Organisation (1.0 mg/kg body weight/day). To put this into perspective, using the European MRL for wheat of 10 mg glyphosate/kg of grain, a 60 kg person would need to consume 1.8 kilograms of wheat per day to consume up to the ADI.

Annex I inclusion:  EU list of reviewed and acceptable substances.

2 MRLs are set to demonstrate that users follow Good Agricultural Practice and follow label recommendations, and are based on residue levels in field trials, not health and safety data. Thus, exceedances are not a measure of health risk.

Articles from international media about the BUND analysis:

Last update: 09 September 2014