Glyphosate in food
As New Zealand's food safety regulator, our number one priority is the health and welfare of consumers. Find out how we monitor and control the use of the herbicide glyphosate.
Background to glyphosate
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, and are found in orchards and gardens.
The herbicide is used in about 90 products. Roundup is the most recognised brand.
Approved uses of glyphosate in NZ
In New Zealand, the focus of glyphosate products is on weed control. There are no "Roundup-ready" crops (crops that are bred or genetically modified to be resistant to glyphosate).
Regulating and controlling the use of glyphosate
We regulate the use of glyphosate under the:
- Agricultural Compounds and Veterinary Medicines (ACVM) Act 1997
- Food Act 2014.
Most glyphosate products used on food crops need to be registered under the ACVM Act 1997. Glyphosate products require a thorough scientific assessment of:
- chemistry and manufacturing information
- plant safety
- residues in food
For environmental and health and safety purposes, New Zealand's Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) regulates the manufacture, importing, use, storage, and transportation of hazardous substances. This includes glyphosate. The EPA has approved glyphosate for use in New Zealand.
Setting maximum residue levels
We set limits on how much glyphosate residue can be present in food products. These are called "maximum residues levels" (MRLs). MRLs also cover other pesticides and other compounds (like drenches and antibiotics).
How we monitor glyphosate use
To monitor and control the use of glyphosate in New Zealand, we run tests and surveys.
Past tests and surveys
We monitor chemical residues and run regular surveys. We also test targeted commodities of dietary exposure, good agricultural practice, or trade concern.
Since 2014, we've done several tests for glyphosate residue in food:
- Processed fresh milk and cream from retails – no residues detected (2014/15)
- Raw milk – no glyphosate residues detected (2014/15)
- Pea crops – no glyphosate residues detected (2015/16)
- Wheat crops – no health or food safety concern detected with present glyphosate levels (2015/16)
- Honey – no health or food safety concern detected with present glyphosate levels (2017/18, and 2018/19)
Find out about these tests on dairy, peas, wheat, and honey
New Zealand milk tested for glyphosate
Testing shows that there is no glyphosate in New Zealand milk.
We were approached in 2015 by a group concerned about the possibility that there could be glyphosate residue in New Zealand milk. We considered that:
- it was unlikely that glyphosate residues would be present, based on the information held
- if glyphosate residues were detected, it would be very unlikely to be a food safety concern.
After we were approached, as a precaution we decided to carry out a focused testing programme. We tested for glyphosate and its metabolite in:
- milk and cream for retail sale
- unprocessed raw milk.
No residues were detected in those tests. The tests were done in an accredited laboratory using an approved test method.
The results from this focused testing programme match previous tests of milk for glyphosate. These test were done through the National Chemical Contaminants Programme. The results also confirm our assessment that milk is not likely to have glyphosate residues. From this, consumers should be confident there is no food safety concern regarding glyphosate residues in milk.
Honey tested for glyphosate
We conducted targeted surveys on honey samples for glyphosate residues in 2017/18 and 2018/19.
None of the samples taken from honey available for sale had glyphosate residues above regulatory limits, and there were no food safety concerns.
A small number of raw honey samples showed glyphosate residues above regulatory levels. However, there were no food safety concerns associated with these samples.
For context, if a 5-year-old child was eating honey with 0.1 mg/kg of glyphosate residues (the default maximum residue level in New Zealand) they would need to eat roughly 230kg of honey every day for the rest of their life to reach the World Health Organization (WHO) "Acceptable Daily Intake" for glyphosate.
The results of these surveys show that residue levels and prevalence are comparable to or lower than published in other international reports and studies.
Results for agricultural compounds in honey [PDF, 1.4 MB]
Pea and wheat crops tested for glyphosate
We regularly survey plant-based foods for residues from agricultural compounds (like pesiticides). We test for compounds that are routinely used on farms to control pests and diseases. The aim of the survey programme is to confirm that New Zealand growers and importers are following good agricultural practice. Good agricultural practice means they use the lowest amount of the pesticide necessary.
Residue levels are checked against MRLs to enforce good agricultural practice while ensuring food safety.
We do the surveying through our Food Residues Survey Programme.
Results from 2015/16 survey
We tested for glyphosate residues in pea and wheat crops in the 2015/16 survey. No glyphosate residues were detected in 60 pea samples. Glyphosate residues were detected in 26 out of 60 wheat samples. Twenty of these samples contained glyphosate above the MRL of 0.1 mg/kg.
The results were assessed and indicated no food safety concern. At the highest level detected (5.9 mg/kg), the average adult would have to eat 14kg of wheat-based products every day for their entire life to reach the WHO "Acceptable Daily Intake" for glyphosate.
Because the levels in the wheat samples appeared to be greater than expected, We began an investigation into the possible causes. We did not find any clear reasons for the higher residues levels. We did find that label instructions may not be clear to all users around using glyphosate for pre-harvest weed control in cereal crops.
As a result, We have reviewed the wording on labels for pre-harvest weed control in cereal crops. We focused on clarity and consistency. This included a review of residue information for glyphosate when used in cereal crops for weed control.
Read the 2015/16 FRSP report [PDF, 447 KB]
International reviews of glyphosate
We review and respond to glyphosate research and statements from major international food safety authorities.
Food and Agriculture Organization/World Health Organization
In 2004 the Food and Agriculture Organization/World Health Organization joint 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.
They reviewed glyphosate again in 2016 and included findings of a 2015 International Agency for Research on Cancer report. They concluded that the health risk to consumers from dietary exposure is very low.
New Zealand Food Safety agreed with the conclusions in both JMPR reports in our assessment of the dietary risk of glyphosate to New Zealand and international consumers.
International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC)
The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) announced in March 2015 that it had determined that glyphosate was a probable human carcinogen.
New Zealand Food Safety reviewed the IARC report in July 2015 and concluded that IARC had done 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.
New Zealand Food Safety'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 levels.
European Food Safety Authority review
The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) 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.
United States Environmental Protection Agency review
The United States Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA) has completed a review of glyphosate as required under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act. It has concluded that "there are no risks of concern to human health when glyphosate is used according to the label and that it is not a carcinogen".
The US EPA website has more information.