The Glyphosate Debate: Food Safety

In 1974, Monsanto introduced a new wonder potion to the world. It’s name? Glyphosate or, to the everyday householder, Roundup; an agricultural and garden spray which is now spread on fields and allotments by the ton.

According to Environmental Science Europe the herbicides application has seen a dramatic increase in usage volumes in the last decade and a 15 fold rise in use since 1996. With 9.4 million tons of the stuff sprayed over fields worldwide since its introduction to the market, the solution is now the most used agricultural chemical of all time.

However, while popular with the farming world, the general public have a somewhat different view according to latest Yougov poll. According to the survey two thirds of the European participants surveyed would support a ban on using the chemical.

In a breakdown of the results of 7000 participants from five EU states, 75% of Italians asked would support a stop to the herbicide use followed by Germans with 70% of those who took part in agreement with a ban. French citizens gave 60% support while here in the UK a figure of 56% was noted.

The consumer version of glyphosate is readily available on shelves throughout the EU (Photo Credit: Philippe Huguen)

The consumer version of glyphosate is readily available on shelves throughout the EU (Photo Credit: Philippe Huguen)

The survey follows increasing focus on the herbicide use particularly in Germany where in February the Munich Environmental Institute found that 14 of Germany’s top selling beer brands contained the chemical. While deemed no risk to consumers, public concern over chemicals in food and drink in Germany and other parts of mainland Europe has continued to increase.

The issues and concerns surrounding glyphosate are also set to continue with debates over its usage in Europe planned in Brussels for mid May and there are strong voices for either side. In March 2015 the UN showed its cards declaring through The World Health Organisation that the chemical was “probably carcinogenic to humans” while the European Food Safety Authority (Efsa) chose to tackle the statement head on announcing “glyphosate is unlikely to pose a carcinogenic hazard to humans and the evidence does not support classification with regard to its carcinogenic potential”.

However, while the EU food authorities may not see the herbicide as a concern, in the US new rules have lead to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) beginning routine testing of certain foodstuffs amid safety concerns. Even within the EU borders some member states are also choosing to er on the side of caution with local authority regions in the Netherlands, Denmark and Sweden either banning or restricting glyphosate use in light of possible links to health problems.

As well as concern of food safety the glyphosate debate extends much further with many ecologists strongly opposing the chemicals use as a non-selective herbicide. Impacts from misuse, wide spread sprays or pollution of water courses are all well documented while research continues to be done into the long term impacts of glyphosate residues in the soil and in surround ecosystems and wildlife population.

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Kirstin McEwan
Current Wildlife Conservation Masters student and former Environmental Stewardship graduate with interests in wildlife conservation and science communication

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