Weed killers, pest sprays, fertilisers and other gardening products can be harmful. Take extra care when using, storing, and disposing of these to protect yourself, your whānau and the environment.
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Healthline on 0800 611 116 for medical advice
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Many garden products have chemicals and can be hazardous if not used correctly. Make your home and garden safer by choosing products that are as gentle as possible, and by getting rid of old products you don’t use.
Before you start
Before you buy new gardening products, think about whether the job you want to do could be done another way, for example, pulling weeds by hand. You can get advice to help you select the safest and most effective product for the job from the staff at your garden shop, or look online.
Read the label. The label has the information you need to keep yourself and others safe, like whether to wear gloves and what to do in an emergency. Products that are labelled ‘natural’, ‘organic’, or ‘environmentally friendly’ can still be hazardous.
Take care while you garden
- If you are working near or on edible plants, check the label to see whether the product is safe to use near food crops, and if used nearby, how long you need to wait before the plant or vegetable is safe to eat.
- Wear gloves, and check the label to see if you need other protection, like a face mask or safety glasses.
- Keep products away from your eyes and face, and off your skin.
- Choose a calm day if spraying. The wind can blow products into your eyes and face, or onto other people.
- Be very careful if you are working near streams or other water. Many garden products should not be used near water. Check the label.
Protect the bees and other pollinators
- Try using other options, such as weeding and mulching, instead of chemical products and sprays.
- Cut your lawn less and don’t worry about letting clover flowers grow. They are food for bees. Let dandelions flower and mow them before they go to seed. Think about cutting smaller areas of lawn on a rotation so there are more flowers for pollinators.
- Don’t spray garden chemicals near budding or flowering plants where bees and other insects are likely to forage. Spray in dry conditions and avoid spraying when it is windy; it’s safer for you too. Spot treat where you can and avoid blanket spraying an entire area. Spray after sunset.
When you’ve finished
- Wash yourself and the clothes you were wearing.
- Wash any other areas that came into unintended contact with the gardening products.
- Dispose of garden products safely. Check the label for instructions. You may need to contact your local council or ask at the shop where you bought it for advice on safe disposal.
Storing gardening products
- Store high up or in a locked cupboard or cabinet and in a well-ventilated area.
- You may need to keep products away from heat or damp. Check the label.
- Keep away from water, food, pet food and medicines.
- Keep products in their original bottle or box. This is important – the safety information you need is on the label and the packaging may be designed so it does not react to the contents inside.
- Seal and clean all containers properly before you put them away. Clean any drips or spills from the outside of the bottle or container
Protect children and pets
- Keep young children and pets away while you are using gardening products.
- Read the label to check how long you must keep away from an area after it has been treated. Follow this advice carefully. If you are spraying and there is nothing on the label to tell you to stay away from the area, keep children and pets away at least until the spray has dried.
- Pellet-type products, such as slug bait and fertilisers, could be attractive to young children and pets – take care when using these in your garden.
- Never transfer garden products into food or drink containers. Children may not know the difference and eat or drink the contents.
- If you throw away old or unused products in your household waste, make sure the rubbish bin is somewhere children and pets can’t access, and that the product cannot leak from the waste before it is collected. Check the label to make sure it can be included in your household waste.
Stay safe with glyphosate
All glyphosate substances used in New Zealand have been through an approval process, which considers likely impacts on human health and the environment. To reduce the risks posed by glyphosate, we recommend you follow the advice below.
When using any chemical, you should start by reading the label. This will tell you the specific risks for the product, and how you can reduce these risks.
Before you spray
- Read all instructions on the label and follow them.
- Make sure you are using the right product for the job you are doing.
- Confirm your spray area is not close to water, such as streams, rivers, lakes or ponds.
- Check the weather forecast. Make sure no rain is predicted for at least 24 hours. Avoid spraying when it is windy.
- Clear children and pets from the area, and keep them well away.
- Follow the label advice on the need for protective clothing.
- Wash your hands, face and clothing.
- Keep children and pets away until the spray has dried, or for the amount of time indicated on the label.
- Read the instructions on the label to help you safely dispose of any unused product.
Storing glyphosate safely
You should follow these simple recommendations to protect yourself, others, and the environment:
- Keep it locked up and out of reach of children and pets.
- Store the product in its original container.
- Make sure it is kept far away from food, including pet food.
- Dispose of empty herbicide containers and unused herbicides properly.
- Check the label instructions and use-by date before each re-use.
The EPA's report on glyphosate
We commissioned Dr Wayne Temple, a toxicologist and former Director of the New Zealand National Poisons Centre, to undertake a scientific review of glyphosate. The overall conclusion of his report is that glyphosate is unlikely to be genotoxic or carcinogenic to humans and does not require classification under HSNO as a carcinogen or mutagen. The 19-page report was published in August 2016, along with a two-page summary of the report for non-scientific audiences.
How glyphosate is regulated in New Zealand
Glyphosate is a chemical used to control weeds. It is a broad-spectrum herbicide that works by inhibiting an enzyme found in plants. Glyphosate substances are perhaps the most common herbicide in New Zealand and world-wide, and are used commercially and around the home. We have approved glyphosate for use in New Zealand.
We put controls in place to manage the risks of hazardous substances to safeguard people and the environment. This page describes the legal framework for doing this, and gives more details about how the risks of glyphosate are assessed, monitored and managed.
New Zealand's legal framework: regulating glyphosate and other herbicides
The registration and approval of herbicides, such as glyphosate, is a responsibility of both the EPA under the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms (HSNO) Act 1996, and the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) under the Agricultural Compounds and Veterinary Medicines (ACVM) Act 1997.
Under the HSNO Act all hazardous substances require approval by the EPA before they can be used in New Zealand. The EPA has approved approximately 60 substances containing glyphosate under this Act.
Once approval under the HSNO Act is granted, products which meet that approval may be registered under the ACVM Act. The ACVM Act regulates the importation, manufacture, sale and use of all products used in the agricultural and horticultural industries to eliminate pests, treat and prevent diseases, and otherwise manage animals and plants.
The ACVM Act manages risks to trade, agricultural security, public health and animal welfare along with ensuring compliance with domestic residue standards for pesticides, veterinary medicines and other agricultural compounds. There were 94 glyphosate products registered under the ACVM Act on 1 June 2016. (Note: a single HSNO approval can cover more than one ACVM registered product.)
The use of glyphosate in New Zealand
Glyphosate substances are used in a wide variety of settings, including orchards, vineyards, pastures, vegetable patches, roadways, parks and sports fields and home gardens. Glyphosate has been used in New Zealand since 1976 and is currently sold under a large number of different brand names.
The safety of glyphosate
Based on our current assessment, people are advised that following the label instructions on all glyphosate products provides adequate protection for users.
People should follow the use and safety instructions on all chemical product labels, as these are designed to reduce human exposure to the product and to protect the environment.
If the label has been removed or damaged, you can search the manufacturer’s website to find the relevant safety information.
We operate under the HSNO Act to put controls in place to manage the risks of hazardous substances to safeguard people and the environment.
Over time, new information about a hazardous substance may emerge which suggests that the risks to human health and/or the environment may not be appropriately managed by the existing controls for the substance. When this happens, we may reassess the approval for the substance.
If we consider a formal review is needed after reviewing the overseas reports, a reassessment may be initiated, but on the weight of evidence to date, glyphosate does not require classification under HSNO as a carcinogen or mutagen.
How glyphosate is regulated overseas
The current international opinion by national authorities in countries such as the US, Canada, the EU and Australia is that glyphosate is safe to be used as a herbicide.
We monitor international developments and the latest research available through a wide range of scientific media.
In March 2015, the World Health Organization’s (WHO) cancer research group, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), publicised their conclusions, which classified glyphosate in a group of chemicals that is ‘probably carcinogenic to humans’.
IARC identifies chemical hazards and does not assess the risks from using chemicals. Their determination only relates to whether glyphosate has the potential to cause cancer but does not make any comment on whether glyphosate is likely to cause cancer in humans when used properly.
Another WHO assessment group, the Joint Meeting on Pesticide Residues (JMPR) (which assesses risk from pesticide residues in food) has previously determined that glyphosate does not pose a cancer risk to humans.
A joint expert task force comprising scientists from the WHO, national governments and universities was convened to review the information considered by IARC and to determine whether there is a need to update the previous assessments on glyphosate undertaken by the JMPR.
This task force noted that the IARC report includes information not previously reviewed by the JMPR and recommended a re-evaluation of glyphosate.
The JMPR met in May 2016 to discuss their assessment of glyphosate. A summary of their evaluation was published on 16 May 2016. The JMPR concluded that glyphosate is unlikely to pose a carcinogenic risk to humans from exposure through the diet.
Glyphosate was approved for use within the European Union with certain conditions from 2002 onwards. Between 2012 and 2015, it was assessed against subsequent 2009 legislation for pesticide use, from which the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) concluded that 'glyphosate is unlikely to pose a carcinogenic hazard to humans'.
In June 2016, the European Commission extended the registration of glyphosate for another 18 months by the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA). The extension gave a limited period of time for further investigation. At the time, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC, an agency of the World Health Organisation) had a different opinion from EFSA about the potential for glyphosate to cause cancer.
The European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) Risk Assessment Committee investigated the hazardous properties of glyphosate and reported its findings in mid-March 2017. In line with EFSA, with other studies around the world, and with the Joint Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations: they concluded that there is no evidence to link glyphosate to cancer in humans. They also concluded that it should not be classified as a substance that causes genetic damage (mutagen) or disrupts reproduction. The Committee agreed to keep the classification of glyphosate as a substance that causes serious eye damage and is toxic to aquatic life. It also concluded that glyphosate should not be classified as a substance that causes genetic damage (a mutagen) or disrupts reproduction.
In mid-2017, the European Commission reopened discussions about glyphosate use with its Member States. In December 2017, its Members voted to approve glyphosate for use for another five years.
Currently, the US EPA is re-assessing glyphosate as part of its Registration Review programme. In September 2016, the USEPA published their assessment of the carcinogenic potential of glyphosate, which concluded that glyphosate is not likely to be carcinogenic to humans at doses relevant to human health risk assessment.
In 2015, Health Canada’s Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA) released its proposed re-evaluation decision on glyphosate as part of its standard regulatory procedure. Using a weight-of-evidence approach, the PMRA concluded that glyphosate was unlikely to cause cancer in humans. This document underwent public consultation in 2015 and in April 2017 the PMRA released its re-evaluation decision.
The PMRA’s re-evaluation process, which included an assessment of available scientific information and consideration of submissions received, concluded that products containing glyphosate do not present risks of concern to human health or the environment when used according to the revised label directions. Consequently, the PMRA is granting continued registration of glyphosate-containing products.
The re-evaluation found that “glyphosate is not genotoxic and is unlikely to pose a human cancer risk”, that risks to workers, or glyphosate use in residential settings, are not of concern “provided that updated label instructions are followed”. In terms of environmental effects, the PMRA has imposed the use of buffer zones in order to mitigate potential risks to non-target species from spray drift exposure.
The PMRA has imposed a number of restrictions:
- Glyphosate cannot be applied using hand-wicking or hand-daubing methods.
- A minimum restricted entry interval of 12 hours for entry into treated agricultural sites.
- Use of buffer zones to protect non-target terrestrial and aquatic habitats.
- Additional label information to inform users of measures to take to protect bystanders and reduce potential for glyphosate run-off.
The PMRA noted that glyphosate is an important herbicide for weed management in Canadian agriculture and non-agricultural land management (including forestry).
Health Canada notes that it has been collaborating with the US Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA) on the re-evaluation of glyphosate. In December 2016, the US EPA Scientific Advisory Panel (SAP) discussed the cancer potential of glyphosate, and Health Canada's PMRA participated as an observer. The final SAP meeting report was posted on 17 March 2017. The PMRA continually monitors other regulatory organizations’ activity. This includes the US EPA's review of the SAP recommendations and final determination regarding the potential carcinogenicity of glyphosate.
The Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA) evaluated the IARC report and other contemporary scientific assessments as part of an established chemical review nomination process. The APVMA evaluation included a review of the IARC monograph by the Department of Health and risk assessments undertaken by expert international bodies and regulatory agencies. The APVMA concluded that glyphosate does not pose a carcinogenic risk to humans and that there are no grounds to place it under formal reconsideration.