Farming News - Glyphosate study: use increasing rapidly as EU decision nears

Glyphosate study: use increasing rapidly as EU decision nears

02 Feb 2016
Frontdesk / Arable

75% of all Glyphosate ever sprayed on crops used in the last 10 Years, according to US study, which comes as EU authorities face a decision on the future of the world’s most widely used herbicide in Europe. 


A new paper (out 2nd February) published in Environmental Sciences Europe, confirms there has been a dramatic increase in the total volume of glyphosate applied to crops across the world.


The paper, Trends in glyphosate herbicide use in the United States and globally, by Washington State University researcher Charles Benbrook, reveals that globally glyphosate use has risen almost 15-fold since genetically modified (GM), glyphosate-tolerant crops (sold as being “Roundup Ready”) were introduced in the 1990s. However, in the U.S. there has been a smaller (five-fold) increase in agricultural use since this time.  


Previous research work by Prof Benbrook, carried out at WSU’s Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources, showed an increase in herbicide use on genetically modified herbicide-tolerant crops, which contrasts industry claims that the plants lead to a reduction in applications of damaging chemicals

Almost three quarters of the total volume of glyphosate sprayed world-wide over the last 40 years (1974 to 2014) has been sprayed since 2004, Benbrook said. The US figures come at an interesting time, with glyphosate use increasing in the UK whilst internationally there are ongoing debates about the herbicide’s safety; last year the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) cancer research arm categorised glyphosate as being ‘probably carcinogenic’ to humans. Though a later assessment by EU risk assessment office EFSA reached the opposite conclusion, questions have been raised about scope of the European watchdog’s research.


In the immediate term, EFSA’s findings could be used by EU authorities to renew glyphosate’s licence for use in Europe, which is up for review this year.


Benbrook also said pre-harvest uses of glyphosate have become increasingly common since the mid-2000s in the U.S. northern-tier states (those bordering Canada) and northern Europe on wheat, barley and edible beans. He said this usage means higher residues in harvested foodstuff, which has led to the granting of higher tolerance levels for residues (such as changes in the U.S. two years ago), though this use is now prohibited in some countries (e.g. Germany, since May 2014).


In the UK, the Soil Association has claimed that government data shows glyphosate use in UK farming has increased by 400% in the last 20 years and that a growing body of literature suggests there could be adverse effects for the environment ad human health as a result.


Responding to the publication of EFSA’s opinion on glyphosate in November last year, Nick von Westenholz, CEO of the Crop Protection Association which represents herbicide manufacturers said, “Pesticides are amongst the most heavily regulated products in Europe and it currently takes about ten years, costing over £150m to bring an active ingredient to market. It is this process, backed by effective and independent regulatory scrutiny, that ensures the public can have absolute confidence in our products.


“Glyphosate is an important part of a farmer’s… toolbox. It is particularly important in minimising food waste by controlling a broad spectrum of weeds and therefore reducing the need for ploughing of soils. This protects soils from degradation and reduces greenhouse gas emissions and energy consumption. This is just one example of how modern farming relies on innovations in crop protection such as glyphosate to protect soil whilst helping make our land as productive as possible.”


However, on Tuesday, Peter Melchett, policy director at the Soil Association said, “This research reveals that Monsanto’s Glyphosate is now the most heavily used weed-killer in history, and use is sky-rocketing.


“This huge increase in chemical spraying is what we can expect if GM crops are ever grown in England. The research rightly questions the safety of using Glyphosate on crops destined for people to eat just before they are harvested – a growing practice in the UK, which must end.”