Glyphosate | Uses, Benefits, and Chemical Safety Facts

Glyphosate

Glyphosate is one of the most widely used herbicides in the United States. It is a systemic herbicide, meaning that when applied to plant foliage, it is absorbed through the tissues to kill broadleaf plants, weeds and grasses. 

Uses & Benefits

Agriculture & Farming

Glyphosate is an active ingredient a variety of herbicides used to control broadleaf weeds and grasses. Glyphosate works by preventing plants from making certain proteins that are necessary for growth.

When used precisely and according to label instructions, herbicides help to keep weeds from competing with crops for water, sunlight and nutrients. Glyphosate helps farmers and homeowners control weeds in many different kinds of plantings, including:

  • A wide variety of fruit, vegetable, and other food crops.
  • Ornamental plantings, lawns and turf, greenhouses, aquatic areas, forest plantings, and roadside rights-of-way for vegetation control.
  • Glyphosate-resistant (transgenic) and GMO (genetically modified organisms) crop varieties that include canola, corn, cotton, soybeans, sugar beets and wheat.

Safety Information

Many regulatory agencies in the world have reviewed glyphosate, which has been in use since the 1970s.

Is glyphosate a carcinogen?

Alternatively, WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) issued a statement in March 2015 that classified glyphosate as “probably carcinogenic to humans,” but WHO and IARC also noted there was limited evidence of glyphosate’s carcinogenicity in humans for non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

Answering Questions

Does glyphosate cause cancer?

The U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and World Health Organization (WHO) said glyphosate is “unlikely to pose a carcinogenic risk to humans” through dietary exposure in May 2016. Before the FAO and WHO report in 2016, WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) issued a statement in March 2015 that classified glyphosate as “probably carcinogenic to humans.” WHO and IARC also noted there was limited evidence of glyphosate’s carcinogenicity in humans for non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

An epidemiologic review of studies on glyphosate that appeared in the Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology Journal found no evidence of “a causal relationship between any disease and exposure to glyphosate.

Does glyphosate cause autism?

There have been very few studies that have specifically examined glyphosate and the autism spectrum disorder (ASD). In 2007, a study published in Environmental Health Perspectives examined whether there was an association with maternal exposure to pesticides during gestation and ASD among children in California’s Central Valley. The study did not find an association between maternal exposure to glyphosate and ASD in children.

Can glyphosate affect birds, fish, or other wildlife?

Pure glyphosate is low in toxicity to fish and wildlife, but some products containing glyphosate may be toxic because of the other ingredients in them. Glyphosate may affect fish and wildlife indirectly because killing plants can alter an animals’ habitat.

More Information

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

Joint FAO/WHO Meeting on Pesticide Residues

National Pesticide Information Center

World Health Organization’s (WHO) International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC)