With a recent increase of coverage around the possible effects of glyphosate on human health and the environment, we thought it would be useful to provide an everything-you-need-to-know guide on the chemical.
What is glyphosate?
Glyphosate is the world’s most used herbicide and is sprayed regularly to control unwanted vegetation in public spaces, gardens and in agriculture. It’s rarely used on its own but is an active ingredient in many herbicides. The most popular herbicide product is the world’s top-selling weed killer – Monsanto’s ‘Roundup’.
Along with other ingredients, the chemical works by preventing weeds and plants from making the proteins that are necessary for growth. Glyphosate is a non-selective herbicide, meaning it will kill most plants. In agriculture, many seeds have been genetically modified so farmers can apply the herbicide to the whole field. These GM crops have been engineered to be unaffected by the glyphosate so they can continue to grow unharmed and only the surrounding weeds are damaged.
Concentrations of glyphosate found in herbicides varies from 40% for commercial applications, down to 1% for weed killers marketed for home use. Pure glyphosate is actually relatively low in toxicity, products usually contain other ingredients that help the glyphosate kill the plants. It’s the other ingredients which are mixed with glyphosate that make the product more toxic.
What are the concerns of glyphosate?
Today, the use of glyphosate to control unwanted vegetation is highly controversial. There’s lots of scientific research and studies to both approve and disapprove its toxicity.
Companies that make herbicide products claim that glyphosate is completely safe to use and the scientific evidence from the other side is incorrect. They’re backed by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), which stated that glyphosate is ‘unlikely to pose a carcinogenic hazard to humans.’
But in 2015, the World Health Organization’s cancer agency IARC declared that glyphosate is a ‘probable human carcinogen’ – meaning it could potentially cause cancer. The conclusion was based on observational studies, animal studies and test tube studies. Concerns have risen from the chemical’s link to health and the rise of human exposure to the chemical.
The concern rises as glyphosate is often found in our food and waterways. Scientists have found traces of the hazardous chemical glyphosate in the urine of nearly 1 in 2 people tested. So, if the studies are accurate, human health could seriously be at risk if the chemical continues to be used on a large scale.
What is the current legislation on glyphosate?
Countries and local authorities across the globe are moving fast to take the step to ban herbicides in response to these concerns and to growing public, environmental and legislative pressure.
The European Union:
After the results were released by the World Health Organization’s cancer agency, the EU was unable to re-license the use of glyphosate for 15 years. Instead, they had to settle for a short 18-month renewal.
On the 27th of November 2017, the EU voted to re-authorise the chemical despite 1.3 million people signing a petition to ban glyphosate. This means it’s won a five-year lease in Europe. In two years, this will be reviewed again with a new safety assessment by the European Food Safety Authority
Countries outside the EU:
Outside of the EU, there has also been action to ban the use of glyphosate. Recently in Brazil, a federal judge ordered the suspension of products containing glyphosate until the government re-evaluates the chemical’s toxicology
How will I know if glyphosate is being used in my local area?
In the UK, a number of councils have voted to put restrictions on pesticides and herbicides, including:
- Hammersmith & Fulham
- North Somerset
It’s not always clear which method your local authority has chosen to manage the space in your area. You may currently be unaware of the use of glyphosate. PAN (Pesticide Action Network) UK recently released a map where you can view all the pesticide-free zones in the country – which you can look at here.
Is there an alternative to glyphosate?
While the debate continues, organisations with weed control requirements need to consider other risk-free, effective and sustainable solutions. If governing bodies were to completely ban the use of glyphosate, then people may feel at a loss without the option of a viable and affordable alternative.
Luckily, there is a solution…
Foamstream is safe, versatile, cost-effective and effective at both managing green and urban spaces. It’s made from a blend of natural plant oils and sugars & has been approved for organic use, and as safe and non-toxic across the globe by numerous bodies. It has unrestricted use so can be used around people, animals, delicate ecosystems and waterways.
Foamstream works on the unwanted vegetation by applying heat to the weed in the form of hot water insulated by a biodegradable foam. The foam acts as a thermal blanket, holding the heat delivered by the hot water on the weed long enough to kill or sufficiently damage it.
If you want to find out more about alternative methods of weed control, then please contact us.