Glyphosate Facts

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

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Safety: Authorization of plant protection products

© Alexander Raths - fotolia.com

Plant pests and weeds have presented a challenge to farmers ever since people began to cultivate crops. Many weed species can easily destroy half of an entire harvest. The common couch grass for instance, a frequent invader of cereal fields in Europe, can reduce yields up to 60%.

Chemical weed-control methods have always been seen as an attractive solution because they are relatively cost-effective and easy to use, so herbicides have played a key role in our production of food, feed, and fibre over the last 60 years.

However, plant protection products which are characterized by a potential hazardous level also come into contact with farmers, food and the environment. To ensure they pose no unreasonable risk, comprehensive risk assessment procedures which take reasonable exposure conditions and scenarios into consideration andare prescribed by law (More information on the interaction between ‘risk’ and ‘hazard’). In the European Union and in most other countries worldwide, no plant protection product can be used unless it has been confirmed that it poses no unreasonable risk to the health of consumers, farmers, local residents and by-standers and that it does not cause unacceptable effects on the environment.

Companies wanting to register herbicide products for use in the EU must apply to the relevant national authority. The application has to include information on comprehensive scientific analyses that have examined:

•    the identity and physical /chemical properties of the active ingredient;
•    its fate and behaviour in the environment;
•    possible effects on the environment, non-target animals, -plants and
     microorganisms (ecotoxicology);
•    possible effects on mammals (toxicology);
•    residues in crops, food and feed and suitable analytical methods for the detection of residues.

Active ingredients, such as glyphosate, are first approved at EU level including an evaluation by the European Food Safety Authority. If they are found to be without any unacceptable risk to people or the environment, these substances are included in the EU list of approved active ingredients. This approval is valid for a maximum period of 10 years but can be subject to conditions and reviewed at any time and is renewable.

All evaluations of glyphosate by regulatory authorities have so far concluded that glyphosate does not pose any unacceptable risk to human health, the environment or non-target animals and plants. The fact that glyphosate binds strongly to soil and that it degrades rapidly in soil and water are significant factors in its favourable safety profile. Glyphosate’s overall low toxicity and its good safety profile are major benefits which have contributed to the widespread use of glyphosate based plant protection products.

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Last update: 11 September 2015