Report confirms massive rise in farmers’ use of glyphosate

The expansion of GM herbicide-tolerant crops has led to a massive increase in the use of glyphosate weedkiller, a study has found.

According to the paper, published by organic proponent Charles Benbrook (see “Extracts from Dr Benbrook’s paper”, below), glyphosate use has increased 15-fold since Roundup Ready genetically modified (GM) glyphosate-tolerant crops were introduced in 1996.

Extracts from Dr Benbrook’s paper

  • An estimated 747m kilograms of agricultural applications of glyphosate were used across 1.4bn hectares of actively farmed arable cropland worldwide in 2014.
  • If this volume of glyphosate had been applied evenly, about 0.53kg of glyphosate could have been sprayed on every hectare of cropland on the planet equivalent to about 0.47lbs/acre.
  • Global agricultural use of glyphosate soared following adoption of genetically engineered herbicide-tolerant crops in 1996. The total volume applied by farmers rose 14.6-fold, from 51m kilograms in 1995 to 747m kilograms in 2014.

More than 70% of the total volume of glyphosate sprayed worldwide over 40 years, from 1974 to 2014, has been sprayed in the past 10 years, the study shows.

See also: Call to ban glyphosate on milling wheat

The new figures come against a background of increased use in the UK. 

Figures analysed by the Soil Association from government data last year revealed glyphosate use in UK farming has increased by 400% in the past 20 years.

In the last year for which government figures are available, nearly one-third of UK cereals, wheat and barley, were sprayed with glyphosate – a total of just over 1m hectares.  

Serious doubts have been cast over the claimed “safety” of glyphosate.

Last year, the World Health Organisation’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), concluded “glyphosate is probably carcinogenic to humans”.

However, glyphosate manufacturer Monsanto has strongly rejected the claims, saying they are not supported by scientific data.

See also: Monsanto hits back at glyphosate study’s cancer claims

Dr Philip Miller, Monsanto’s vice-president of global regulatory affairs, said: “All labeled uses of glyphosate are safe for human health and supported by one of the most extensive worldwide human health databases ever complied on an agricultural product.”

Commenting on Dr Benbrook’s report, Peter Melchett, policy director at the Soil Association, said: “This huge increase in chemical spraying is what we can expect if GM crops are ever grown in England.  

“As well as being identified as a probable human carcinogen, the research notes that recent studies have made the connection between glyphosate exposure and a number of serious health effects as well as cancer, including the degeneration of the liver and kidney, as well as non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

“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.”

In November, the European Food Safety Authority (Efsa), the EU’s food safety watchdog, concluded that glyphosate was “unlikely to pose a carcinogenic hazard to humans”.

However, more than 90 global scientists subsequently wrote to European health and food safety commissioner, Vytenis Andriukaitis, strongly challenging Efsa’s decision and the report by German Federal Risk Assessment Institute (BfR) that it was based on.