Glyphosate – a double edged sword

Glyphosate - a double edged sword


Glyphosate is the world's most popular herbicide, but a prominent scientist says the health risks associated with the product are too great.

Matt Landos, director, Future Fisheries Veterinary Service says industry cannot 'wish away the cancer risk' of glyphosate.

Matt Landos, director, Future Fisheries Veterinary Service says industry cannot 'wish away the cancer risk' of glyphosate.

The European Commission has just granted a five year extension for the use of the world’s highest volume by use organophosphate herbicide, glyphosate after a lengthy debate.

Global use over the past 10 years is approaching 6,000,000,000 kilograms.

Any decision to restrict EU use would have had serious implications for Australian agricultural exports to the EU, due to the extensive use of glyphosate in Australian farming systems.

However, it is not only in Europe that glyphosate use is under the microscope.

Across the Atlantic in the USA, Monsanto is facing legal action in relation to its glyphosate product, RoundUp and its safety record.

A line-up of professors and doctors from many medical institutes of the USA have now compiled reports through reviewing scientific studies on glyphosate based formulations and their results are alarming.

Collectively these reports identify that there is an elevated risk of developing the cancer called Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma in people exposed to glyphosate based formulations.

This is not the result of a one-off finding, or a single small study.

To critically examine population level data for effects, the scientific discipline of epidemiology is called upon.

This methodology for data analysis can help identify associations, that demonstrate risks, beyond those that might be expected from chance alone or other unrelated factors.

The toxicology experts came to a similar conclusion in their reviews, that it was probable that glyphosate based formulations induced cancers, citing mouse and rat studies.

Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma rates have nearly doubled over the last 30 years in Australia. Now, one in 40 people will be diagnosed with this cancer in their lifetime.

Previous work on Australian data demonstrated a trebling in risk for persons with occupational exposures to pesticides more broadly. Farmers and farm workers are clearly in the firing line.

The economic cost of cancer treatment is substantial- a single patient can expend more than $150,000 on attempting treatment, much of this on the public purse.

The loss of quality of life during treatment is substantial. Let’s just say no-one has cancer on their bucket list.

The findings of the professors and doctors have now been sent across to those in the European Commission to be considered for their decision on re-registration of glyphosate based formulations.

Australia needs to look at science, not lobbyists and opinion when making public health decisions.

Science can only inform us accurately if we consider all the data, and don’t cherry pick just the studies we like.

Farmers have always used evidence based science to improve their business and scientific evidence is now clearly pointing to a problem with glyphosate inducing cancer. 

The rational debate needs to quickly move to innovating the techniques to farm in the absence of glyphosate as a tool for weed management and crop wilting.

Unfortunately, we cannot just wish away the evidence of cancer, and the severe impacts on those affected and the national health costs.

Australia’s decision to continue use appears increasingly reckless with regard to human health, and economically irrational in light of the health costs incurred as a result of use.

  • Dr Matt Landos is the director of Future Fisheries Veterinary Service.

Expert reports referred to in this article can be found at


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