Find out how to safely use glyphosate, what it is used for, and how it is regulated in New Zealand and overseas.
Glyphosate is a chemical used to control weeds. Glyphosate-based substances are perhaps the most common herbicides used in New Zealand and around the world.
It is safe to use, as long as people follow the instructions on the labels of products containing glyphosate.
The use of glyphosate in New Zealand
Glyphosate has been used in New Zealand since the 1970s. It is sold under different brand names, including Roundup.
It is used by commercial businesses, councils, and around the home. Some of the places it is used include orchards, vineyards, pastures, vegetable patches, roadways, parks, and sports grounds. It is used in the garden at home.
Glyphosate is regulated in New Zealand and there are laws around its use. Products containing glyphosate are considered safe, provided that people follow the rules. These include:
- wearing personal protective equipment, such as gloves, goggles and boots
- using sprays in calm and dry conditions
- storing and disposing of products correctly.
We, the EPA, actively monitor and review the status of glyphosate using information we gather from credible sources. This includes reviews and decisions made by international regulators and research groups. As well as New Zealand, other countries regulate the use of glyphosate.
How to use products containing glyphosate
Before you start
- 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.
- Keep products locked up and out of reach of children and pets.
- Store it in the original container.
- Make sure it is kept far away from food, including pet food.
- Check the use-by date.
- Dispose of empty containers and unused products properly. Read the label or check with the shop it came from.
Glyphosate is regulated in New Zealand
Glyphosate is regulated. It must be approved by the EPA before it can be used in New Zealand.
When we are assessing an application to approve a hazardous substance, we look at the potential impacts on human health and the environment, and weigh up the risks and benefits of the hazardous substance. We use the latest scientific data, including research and decisions made by overseas regulators.
If the hazardous substance is approved, rules are placed on it to reduce risks. Rules include labelling, packaging and disposal requirements, and how to use it safely, such as wearing protective clothing, or limiting its use.
Legal framework for hazardous substances
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 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.
Once approval is granted, products can 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 also manages risks to trade, agricultural security, public health and animal welfare along with making sure residue standards for pesticides, veterinary medicines and other agricultural compounds are met.
There are around 90 glyphosate products registered under the ACVM Act.
We check that glyphosate is safe to use
As a regulator of hazardous substances in New Zealand, we gather information from credible sources when deciding whether substances are safe to use.
We have an active reassessment programme, where we screen hazardous substances for the maximum risk they pose to humans and the environment.
In 2018 we screened more than 700 chemicals, and scaled them for maximum human health risk and environmental risk. As a result, synthetic pyrethroids and chlorpyrifos reassessments are currently in progress or in their preliminary stages. A further 500 chemicals have been screened and six more chemicals added to the priority chemicals list, including chromates (used in timber treatments chemical products).
Glyphosate did not rank highly enough for immediate inclusion in our reassessment programme. We have no evidence that the risk of using glyphosate, or its hazardous nature, has changed.
We monitor and review the status of glyphosate
We actively monitor and review the status of glyphosate in New Zealand and overseas. We monitor international developments and the latest research through a wide range of scientific media, and we review new information as it becomes available.
There are various reviews and decisions international regulators and research groups have taken regarding glyphosate. We agree with the vast majority of regulatory bodies around the world – including in the European Union, United States, Australia and Canada – that glyphosate is unlikely to cause cancer, and is safe to use if the rules are followed.
Studies about glyphosate
The International Agency for Research on Cancer report
The International Agency for Research on Cancer is the World Health Organization’s cancer research group. In 2015 it published a report that classified glyphosate as: “2A probably carcinogenic”. Other things that fall under that same classification include hot drinks (over 65oC) and acrylamide – which are the crispy burned proteins from the barbecue or chips.
The International Agency for Research on Cancer identifies chemical hazards, but does not assess the risks from using chemicals. Its determination was only related to whether glyphosate has the potential to cause cancer. It does not comment on whether glyphosate is likely to cause cancer in humans when it is used properly.
The Joint Meeting on Pesticides Residues group
The Joint Meeting on Pesticides Residues is another World Health Organization assessment group. It assesses risk from pesticide residues in food, and has previously determined that glyphosate does not pose a cancer risk to humans.
EPA report on glyphosate
In 2016 we requested a scientific review of glyphosate. We asked Dr Wayne Temple, a toxicologist and former Director of the New Zealand National Poisons Centre to review any evidence relating to whether glyphosate causes cancer. The review concluded, based on all the evidence available, that glyphosate is unlikely to be genotoxic or carcinogenic to humans.
How glyphosate is regulated overseas
The current international opinion in Australia, Canada, European Union and the United States is that glyphosate is safe to use if people read the label and follow the instructions.
The Australasian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority’s position on glyphosate is that it does not pose a carcinogenic risk to humans, and there are no grounds to place it under formal reconsideration.
At the State level, the Victorian State Government has reviewed the use of glyphosate, undertaken “as a matter of precaution”. The resulting position, supported by WorkSafe Victoria, was that “it was safe for such products to continue being used, as long as proper safety protocols and internal procedures were followed”.
In 2015, Health Canada’s Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA) released its proposed re-evaluation decision on glyphosate. Using a weight-of-evidence approach, it concluded that glyphosate was unlikely to cause cancer in humans. This document underwent public consultation in 2015, and in 2017 the PMRA released its re-evaluation decision.
It concluded that products containing glyphosate do not present risks of concern to human health or the environment, if used according to the revised label directions. Consequently, the Pest Management Regulatory Agency is granting continued registration of glyphosate-containing products.
Glyphosate is approved for use in the European Union.
In 2017, member states voted to approve glyphosate for use for another five years, until 15 December 2022.
In May 2019, the European Commission appointed four member states (France, Hungary, the Netherlands and Sweden) to review glyphosate for its next reassessment. These countries will carry out the scientific work. There are some 1,500 scientific studies, and around 12,000 published scientific articles on glyphosate, plus supplementary data on the positive impact glyphosate can have on biodiversity.
Some European Union nations have taken action to ban or restrict the use of certain products containing glyphosate: Luxembourg, France, Denmark, Belgium, Netherlands, Portugal, Germany, Italy and Malta.
South East Asia
In 2015, a full import ban on all glyphosate-based herbicides was put in place by the then newly elected President Maithripala Sirisena over fears of links to chronic kidney disease. This ban was partly lifted in July 2018, but only for use on tea and rubber plantations.
Thailand’s National Hazardous Substances Committee voted to ban glyphosate and chemicals paraquat and chlorpyrifos from December 2019. This ban was later changed to a restriction on use.
As of April 2020, glyphosate is allowed to be used until 30 June 2021. This is an extension to the previously established prohibition dates of 10 June 2019.
Glyphosate is approved for use in the United States.
The US Environmental Protection Agency has reviewed and reassessed the safety and use of glyphosate. This is part of a 15-year registration review cycle for all herbicides.
In January 2020 it released an interim registration review decision. The US Environmental Protection Agency continues to find that there are no risks of concern to human health when glyphosate is used in accordance with its current label. It also found that glyphosate is unlikely to be a human carcinogen.