Glyphosate is the world’s most widely used herbicide with approximately 8.6 billion kg used worldwide between 1974 and 2014. This works out to approximately 0.53 kg being used on every cropping hectare each year.
Glyphosate resistant crops account for 56% of all glyphosate used (Benbrook 2016). Glyphosate could be said to be the lynch pin of our current farming system. It is therefore of some concern that recently the Californian Superior Court awarded $AU390 million to a school groundskeeper dying of cancer allegedly through the use of glyphosate. Add to this the fact that Monsanto faces more than 5,000 similar lawsuits across the United States over a range of glyphosate-related claims.
Further south, a Brazilian court recommended the Brazilian health regulation agency (ANVISA) conduct a toxicological review of glyphosate. The court suspended the registration of glyphosate in Brazil until the herbicide has been reviewed. Brazil will be the world’s largest soybean producer in 2018-19 and over 85% of its soybeans are Roundup Ready.
These court cases have also stoked consumer concern about food safety. While the use of glyphosate is not currently under threat in Australia, the Californian and Brazilian court cases mean Australia’s herbicide stewardship must remain world’s best practice.
round up A range of glyphosate based products can be purchased in your local supermarket.
The outcomes of these two court cases are based on the 2015 International Agency for research on Cancer (IARC) assessment of glyphosate which said that glyphosate is a potential human carcinogen. The IARC looked at the hazard of glyphosate as a cancer-causing agent however it did not consider how the risks are managed when glyphosate is used according to label directions.
The IARC report also found these are also potential human carcinogens:

  • indoor emissions from burning wood
  • high temperature frying
  • some types of shiftwork
  • consumption of red meat

Other agents rated as carcinogenic to humans by IARC include:

  • alcoholic beverages
  • eating processed meat e.g. salami, ham
  • sunlight
  • post-menopausal hormone therapy
  • outdoor air pollution
  • the occupation of house painter
  • soot, wood dust

The APVMA supports the use of glyphosate in Australia and it can be used safely according to label directions. Following the 2015 IARC report the APVMA conducted its own glyphosate risk assessment and found there was no reason to place it under formal reconsideration.
A number of other regulators around the world have also conducted assessments of glyphosate. These include:

  • European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) 2018 – using a risk-based weight of evidence found glyphosate did not cause cancer in humans
  • New Zealand Environmental Protection Agency – found in 2016 that glyphosate was unlikely to cause cancer
  • US Environmental Protection Agency – found in 2016 that glyphosate was unlikely to cause cancer in humans
  • Health Canada’s Pest Management Regulatory Agency – found in 2015 that glyphosate was unlikely to cause cancer

In the largest study of its kind; the US National Cancer Institute conducted the Agricultural health study in Iowa and North Carolina which studied 89,000 farmers and spouses dating back to 1993. Glyphosate was used on 83% of the participant’s farms. The study found no association with solid tumours or lymphoid malignancies including non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (the cancer of the Californian gro