Glyphosate blocks a specific enzyme pathway, the shikimic acid pathway, that is essential for plant development but is not found in humans or animals. Once the plant dies, glyphosate breaks down over time by microorganisms found in the soil into naturally occurring substances, such as carbon dioxide.
Reducing Soil Erosion and Atmospheric Carbon
Glyphosate-based herbicides can help reduce the need for tillage—plowing or turning over the soil. Tillage has always been a powerful weed-control tool, but it can encourage erosion of valuable topsoil. In addition, the process of disturbing the soil releases sequestered carbon into the atmosphere. Using glyphosate-based herbicides, farmers can leave their soil intact while the previous year’s crop residue or organic matter remains on top of the soil. This supports soil health and provides a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions associated with tillage.
Most often, glyphosate-products are used in conjunction with Monsanto’s Roundup® Ready seeds that have been genetically modified to resist glyphosate, allowing growers to treat their fields without harming their crops. Even where glyphosate-resistant crops aren’t available, like sugarcane, glyphosate still provides significant benefits by simplifying weed management and reducing the need for mechanical tillage.
History of Safe Use
For over 40 years, farmers and homeowners alike have been safely using glyphosate-based products on their farms and lawns to control broadleaf weeds and grasses. Like all pesticides, glyphosate is routinely reviewed by regulatory authorities to ensure it can be used safely. In the U.S., that’s the job of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and like other regulatory authorities around the world, the EPA’s process is comprehensive and based on the best available science.
When it comes to safety assessments, no other pesticide has been more extensively tested than glyphosate. In evaluations spanning four decades, the overwhelming conclusion of experts worldwide, including the EPA, has been that glyphosate can be used safely according to label instructions.
For example, since 1993, scientists from U.S. government agencies including the National Cancer Institute, in collaboration with university researchers, have studied the health impacts of farming through the Agricultural Health Study. In late 2017 these scientists published an updated look at the relationship between glyphosate use and cancers of the circulatory system. Their results from a population of over 54,000 pesticide applicators found no relationship between glyphosate and cancer.
More information on the detailed safety studies that have been performed on glyphosate as well as the assessments performed by global regulatory authorities can be found here.
Learn more about the benefits and safety of glyphosate.