Frequently Asked Questions
Would you like to find out more about the Glyphosate Renewal Group? Or what Glyphosate is and how it's used? Or the effect of Glyphosate on health, wildlife and the environment? The answers to these questions can be found below.
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 was first introduced in 1974 under the trade name “Roundup” and has since been marketed as the active ingredient of hundreds of plant protection products around the world.
Why do farmers need to control weeds with herbicides?
Plant pests and weeds have presented a challenge to farmers ever since people began to cultivate crops. Weeds are competing with crops for space, water, nutrients and sunlight. 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, fiber and renewable energy over the last 60 years.
What crop types are managed with glyphosate?
Herbicides containing glyphosate are used as foliar sprays to manage weeds in a wide range of arable crops. The major crops managed with glyphosate in Europe include cereals, oilseed rape, sugar beets, potatoes, vineyards, olives, citrus and nuts for grassland renovation. Post-harvest treatments generally apply to all crops. In Germany eight out of ten oilseed rape fields are for instance treated with glyphosate herbicides.
How is glyphosate used?
Glyphosate is used to control a variety of weeds in agriculture and gardening, on grasslands and in aquatic environments. In most European countries glyphosate herbicides are predominately applied after harvest to prevent weeds infesting winter crops (pre-planting) or after sowing before the new crop plants emerge (post planting pre-emergence). However, the time, amount and method of application of glyphosate products vary across the EU depending on the crop and the target weed species.
Why is there a need for Glyphosate?
In several European countries, glyphosate-based herbicides are used on almost half of their total crop area. By using glyphosate for weed control, farmers in Europe have been able to forgo or significantly reduce traditional ploughing methods. Conventional plough tillage is an energy-intensive process that releases tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere from the soil. If farmers are forced to fall back on these weed-control methods, CO2 emissions and fossil fuel consumption in Europe are predicted to more than double, while soil erosion could increase six times over.
Recent case studies conducted by researchers in Germany and the UK predict that losing glyphosate would have a considerable effect on crop production costs and would also have an impact on the international trade in several European winter crops and sugar. Food prices would increase and the EU’s share of the global agricultural market would decrease. In fact, it is estimated that crop yields for farmers would be reduced by 5% to 40%, depending on the region, and diminish the global market share of several EU crops if glyphosate was no longer available.
A limitation in the availability for farmers of glyphosate is also predicted to have potential negative implications for land use, biodiversity, greenhouse gas emissions and water quality.
What are the benefits for farmers to use glyphosate herbicides?
For farmers, glyphosate-based herbicides provide simple, flexible and cost-effective weed control as glyphosate helps to remove perennial weeds for several years. Unlike several other herbicides which act on certain type of weeds, glyphosate is effective on all weeds, providing broad-spectrum control. Applying glyphosate before the new crop is planted has the potential to produce 30%-60% higher harvests for many of Europe’s major crops, depending on the weed population and other conditions.
Its effectiveness as a broad-spectrum herbicide has ultimately reduced the use of ploughing as a means of controlling weeds, which exposes fertile topsoil to water and wind erosion. Some studies have estimated that ploughing approaches are approximately twice as costly and time consuming as chemical weed control.
Are there ecological benefits to use glyphosate?
By controlling a broad spectrum of weeds and their entire root systems, glyphosate has eliminated or reduced the need for ploughing the soils. These reduced tillage practices allow farmers to plant crop seeds directly into stubble fields.
A large proportion of Europe’s cultivated land is prone to soil erosion, and minimal soil disturbance practices are sustainable alternatives that help to protect the soil from degradation and reduce greenhouse gas emissions and energy consumption. Several important crops in Europe, including corn and sugar beet, are predominantly managed with these practices in combination with glyphosate. This makes glyphosate a popular tool for many farmers that decide to pursue these soil conservation practices.
Does glyphosate pose risks to human health?
Glyphosate is one of the most widely used active ingredients in herbicides designed to prevent unwanted weed growth in cultivated crops. A: Leading health authorities in the United States, Europe, for example Germany, Australia, Korea, Canada, New Zealand, Japan, and elsewhere around the world continue to conclude that glyphosate-based products are safe when used as directed. Glyphosate-based herbicides have been used safely and successfully for more than 40 years and are among the most thoroughly studied products of their kind.
Bees at risk?
Honeybees and other beneficial insects play a pivotal role in agriculture because many crops are not wind-pollinated but depend on pollinating insects. In addition, spiders and insects such as beetles and wasps feed on small herbivorous insects, which make them important biological pest control agents.
Regulatory authorities conduct comprehensive evaluations to ensure pesticides can be used safely for the environment. As part of this process, the regulatory authorities specifically evaluate the potential for effects on non-target organisms, including honeybees. Glyphosate has been extensively tested in the laboratory and in the field to evaluate potential toxicity to honeybees. This extensive testing has found that glyphosate products pose no acute or chronic adverse effects to honeybees.