Glyphosate: A Chemical to Understand

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The use of glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup and many other weed-killers, is very controversial. However, it is also the main herbicide used on crops in Australia and the main herbicide used against weeds invading our native ecosystems.

Author of the best-selling book Feral Future Tim Low was commissioned to write this report, Glyphosate: A Chemical to Understand, in an attempt to reconcile the conflicting findings, and to consider the outcomes if Australia bans glyphosate.

Background

The use of glyphosate is a challenging but important issue for government agencies, councils and the people who use glyphosate products to keep environmental weeds under control, including thousands of Bushcare and Landcare volunteers across Australia.

In 2015 the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) determined that glyphosate was a probable carcinogen. Several countries (but not Australia) have since announced bans on glyphosate. In three American court cases, juries have awarded massive damages to people who blamed it for their cancer.

These events are very concerning. But government agencies have responded in divergent ways to the IARC report.

The European Food Safety Authority announced that glyphosate ‘is unlikely to pose a carcinogenic hazard to humans’ (European Food Safety Authority 2015). Similar conclusions have been reached by regulatory authorities in Australia, the US, Canada, Japan and New Zealand (Connolly et al. 2018).

Organisations representing Australian farmers – the National Farmers’ Federation, Agforce, Victorian Farmers Federation, WAFarmers – have strongly rejected the IARC finding.

Aside from cancer concerns, it is controversial for its link to genetically modified crops, such as the GM corn grown widely in the US. Many GM crops have been designed to survive glyphosate so that they can be sprayed to kill associated weeds.

The Invasive Species Council has produced this report in an attempt to reconcile the conflicting findings, and to consider the outcomes if Australia bans glyphosate. The views expressed in the report are those of its author, Tim Low, not those of the council.

The first two sections consider why agencies have reached divergent or apparently divergent conclusions. The third asks what it means for glyphosate to be a carcinogen, and the fourth explores what a world without it might look like.

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