Glyphosate

As New Zealand's food safety regulator, MPI's number one priority is the health and welfare of consumers. Find out how MPI monitors and controls the use of the herbicide glyphosate.


Background

Glyphosate is the most widely used herbicide in the world, including in New Zealand. It kills a wide range of weeds that can affect production on farms, orchards and gardens if left unchecked.

The herbicide is used in about 90 products, with Roundup being the most recognised brand.

Quick facts

  • Glyphosate sale and use is regulated under the Agricultural Compounds and Veterinary Medicines (ACVM) Act 1997 and the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms (HSNO) Act 1996.
  • MPI sets Maximum Reside Limits (MRLs) allowed in foods and monitors compliance.
  • MPI agrees with the conclusion of the Joint Food and Agriculture Organization/World Health Organization Meeting on Pesticide Residues (JMPR) that glyphosate is of "very low toxicity".
  • No glyphosate has been found in any milk tested in New Zealand.
  • MPI will review its position on glyphosate in 2016 after a new JMPR report on the herbicide is released.

Regulations, monitoring, and testing

The Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) monitors and controls the use of glyphosate through:

  • Regulations – Glyphosate products require registration under the ACVM Act. This regulatory regime follows best international practice. Controls such as labelling are placed on the products to manage their risks under the ACVM Act.
  • Product registration under the ACVM Act – this includes a thorough scientific assessment of chemistry and manufacturing information, animal and plant safety, and residues in food.
  • Food Safety – MPI sets the maximum residue limits for pesticides in foods.
  • Monitoring – MPI monitors food production for chemical residues.
  • Testing – MPI periodically tests raw milk for glyphosate and, in 2014/15, we tested processed fresh milk and cream from retailers, as well as raw milk. No glyphosate residues were detected.

Other regulations

The Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) regulates the manufacture, importing, use, storage, and transportation of hazardous substances, such as glyphosate, for environmental, and health and safety purposes. The EPA has approved this herbicide for use in New Zealand.

Food Residues Surveillance Programme Interim Results - 2016

The Food Residues Surveillance Programme (FRSP) is run annually to monitor compliance with Maximum Residue Levels (MRLs) set under the Food Notice: Maximum Residue Levels for Agricultural Compounds (MRL notice) issued under the Food Act 2014. The aim of this programme is to confirm Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) are being followed.

This year MPI tested for glyphosate residues in wheat and results have shown detections in 26 out of 60 samples. Twenty of these samples contained glyphosate above the maximum residue level (MRL) of 0.1mg/kg.

MPI has undertaken a rigorous assessment and is confident that at the levels detected there is no food safety issue to consumers. At the highest level of residue detected (5.9mg/kg), a consumer would have to consume 14kg of wheat based products every day for their lifetime to reach the Acceptable Daily Intake for glyphosate.

MPI is investigating the cause(s) of the residue levels and interviewing wheat growers regarding farming practices and potential sources of contamination, as well as working with the wheat industry to ensure proper practices for glyphosate use are followed.

While none of the results are of a food safety concern they indicate that industry use patterns for glyphosate may have deviated from GAP. The outcomes from the investigation will inform what actions will need to be taken to improve compliance.  

International reviews

MPI reviews and responds to glyphosate research and statements from major international food safety authorities.

The Joint Food and Agriculture Organization/World Health Organization Meeting on Pesticide Residues (JMPR) reviewed glyphosate’s toxicity and dietary risk in detail in 2004. They concluded that glyphosate is of very low toxicity.

MPI agreed with this conclusion in our assessment of the dietary risk of glyphosate to New Zealand and international consumers.

The JMPR will review its assessment of glyphosate in 2016. When the new JMPR report is available, MPI will review its position on glyphosate.

MPI review of cancer research agency report

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) announced in March 2015 that it had determined that glyphosate was a probable human carcinogen.

MPI reviewed the IARC report in July 2015 and concluded that IARC had carried out a hazard assessment and not a risk assessment. This means that IARC had looked at whether glyphosate exposure could lead to cancer under any circumstances, whether those circumstances were realistic or not. For example, if the dose required is not a credible dose that humans may be likely to be exposed to.

MPI's view is that the IARC data does not indicate any credible risk to users of glyphosate (for example, farmers, home gardeners), or to consumers of produce with residues of glyphosate that comply with the New Zealand maximum residue limits.

European Food Safety Authority review

The European Food Safety Authority released a review of glyphosate in November 2015. They looked at the IARC findings as part of their review.

The EFSA review determined that glyphosate did not pose any carcinogenic risk to humans, and that pesticide products containing glyphosate will remain eligible to be registered in the European Union.

No glyphosate found in NZ milk

Testing shows no need for concern around the presence of glyphosate in New Zealand milk.

MPI was approached in 2015 by a group concerned about the possibility that glyphosate residue could be present in New Zealand milk. Significant testing by MPI shows these concerns are unfounded. On the basis of all the information available, consumers should not be concerned.

After we were approached, as a precaution we proactively carried out a focused testing programme for glyphosate and its metabolite in milk and cream for retail sale and in unprocessed raw milk. No glyphosate was detected in those tests. The tests were conducted in an accredited laboratory using an approved test method.

All of the results from this focused testing programme are consistent with the testing of milk for glyphosate that has previously been carried out under the New Zealand Government’s National Chemical Contaminants Programme. The results are also consistent with our view that the glyphosate residues in milk are not expected from its use.

Find out more

Who to contact

If you have questions about glyphosate, email info@mpi.govt.nz.

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