Chemicals in the News: Glyphosate

Updated 6 August 2013

Roundup and birth defects: Is the public being kept in the dark?

Glyphosate [N-(phosphonomethyl)glycine] is a broad-spectrum systemic herbicide used to kill weeds, especially annual broadleaf weeds and grasses known to compete with commercial crops grown around the globe.  The first product came onto the market in the 1970s under the trade name 'Roundup'.

Glyphosate is the most widely used herbicide worldwide in agriculture, the home garden, and industrial/commercial applications. Some crops have been genetically engineered to be resistant to glyphosate, allowing farmers to use it to control weeds without affecting the growing crops.

In 2011 Earth Open Source (EOS) published a review of glyphosate titled Roundup and birth defects: Is the public being kept in the dark? EOS (external site) is "a not-for-profit organization dedicated to assuring the sustainability, security, and safety of the global food system".  The EOS review claimed that glyphosate was a reproductive and developmental toxicant, as well as having genotoxic, carcinogenic, neurotoxic, and endocrine-disrupting potential, with these effects occurring at concentrations lower than those used in OECD- and GLP-compliant studies reviewed by the European Union (EU) when glyphosate was first approved. A selection of published literature, predominantly using in vitro testing methods, was cited as supporting these conclusions.

The APVMA contracted an external toxicology consultant to prepare a detailed review of the EOS report (PDF, 1Mb) | (RTF, 2.7Mb) and relevant recent studies. The overarching conclusions from this review can be found on pages 12 and 13 of the document.

The toxicological studies reviewed do not indicate a need to revise the current Australian Acceptable daily Intake (ADI) of 0.3 mg/kg bw/d for glyphosate. The available evidence suggests that there are very wide margins between the ADI and the actual intake of glyphosate via food and from exposure while preparing and applying glyphosate products. Nevertheless, the APVMA will continue to monitor the literature for significant new studies on glyphosate and will consider any new information that might emerge from US and Canadian reviews.

Further information


Ph: (02) 6210 4701

Last updated on 6 August, 2013

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