Glyphosate in food
As New Zealand's food safety regulator, New Zealand Food Safety's 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, orchards and gardens if left unchecked.
The herbicide is used in about 90 products, with Roundup being the most recognised brand.
New Zealand Food Safety conducted targeted surveys on honey samples for glyphosate residues in 2017/2018 and 2018/2019.
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, and there were no food safety concerns associated with these samples.
For context, a 5-year old child who was consuming honey with 0.1 mg/kg of glyphosate residues (the default maximum residue level in New Zealand) would need to eat roughly 230kg of honey every day for the rest of their life to reach the World Health Organization Acceptable Daily Intake for glyphosate.
The results of these surveys show residues levels and prevalence rates comparable to or lower than published in other international reports and studies.
Results for agricultural compounds in honey [PDF, 1.4 MB]
Approved uses of glyphosate in NZ
In New Zealand, the focus of glyphosate products is for weed control. There are no 'Roundup-ready' crops (that is, crops that have been bred or genetically modified to be resistant to glyphosate).
Regulations, monitoring, and testing
New Zealand Food Safety monitors and controls the use of glyphosate through regulations, by setting maximum residue levels, and by running surveys and tests.
Regulations control glyphosate use
Glyphosate products used on food crops require registration under the Agricultural Compounds and Veterinary Medicines (ACVM) Act. This includes a thorough scientific assessment of chemistry and manufacturing information, animal and plant safety, and residues in food. Controls such as labelling are placed on the products to manage their risks under the ACVM Act. This regulatory regime follows best international practice.
Setting maximum residue levels
New Zealand Food Safety sets the maximum residue levels (MRLs) for pesticides, which includes herbicides, in foods.
Monitoring, surveying, and testing
New Zealand Food Safety monitors chemical residues and runs regular surveys. We also periodically test targeted commodities of dietary exposure, good agricultural practice or trade concern. We have tested:
- processed fresh milk and cream from retailers, as well as raw milk in 2014/2015 – no residues detected
- pea crops in 2015/2016 – no residues detected
- wheat crops in 2015/2016 – no levels of food safety concern detected
- honey in 2017/2018 and 2018/2019 – no levels of food safety concern were detected
Other regulations on glyphosate set by the EPA
The Environmental Protection Authority (NZ EPA) regulates the manufacture, importing, use, storage, and transportation of hazardous substances, such as glyphosate, for environmental, and health and safety purposes. The NZ EPA has approved glyphosate for use in New Zealand.
Testing shows no presence of glyphosate in New Zealand milk.
New Zealand Food Safety was approached in 2015 by a group concerned about the possibility that glyphosate residue could be present in New Zealand milk. New Zealand Food Safety considered that it was unlikely glyphosate residues would be present based on the information it held. Furthermore, if glyphosate residues were detected, it would be very unlikely to be a food safety concern.
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 residues were 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 reaffirm our assessment that glyphosate residues in milk are not expected from its use. On the basis of all this information, consumers should be confident there is no food safety concern.
The Food Residues Survey Programme (FRSP) regularly surveys plant-based foods for agricultural compound residues 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 to achieve its purpose.
Residue levels are checked against MRLs which are there to enforce good agricultural practice while ensuring food safety.
Results from 2015/2016 survey
New Zealand Food Safety tested for glyphosate residues in pea and wheat crops in the 2015/2016 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 consume 14kg of wheat-based products every day for their lifetime to reach the World Health Organization Acceptable Daily Intake for glyphosate.
Because the levels in the wheat samples appeared to be greater than expected, New Zealand Food Safety began an investigation into the possible causes. No clear reasons for the higher residue levels were found. But we did identify that label instructions may not be clear to all users for using glyphosate for pre-harvest weed control in cereal crops.
As a result, New Zealand Food Safety has reviewed the wording on labels for pre-harvest weed control in cereal crops for 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]
New Zealand Food Safety reviews and responds to glyphosate research and statements from major international food safety authorities.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
In April 2019, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA) released the Glyphosate Proposed Interim Decision for public comment. As part of this action, US EPA continues to find that there are no risks to public health when glyphosate is used in accordance with its current label directions and that glyphosate is not a carcinogen.
US EPA scientists performed an independent evaluation of available data for glyphosate and found:
- No risk to human health from current uses of glyphosate: Glyphosate products can be safely used by following label directions. There are no risks to children or adults from currently registered uses.
- No indication that children are more sensitive to glyphosate: After evaluating numerous studies from a variety of sources, the agency found no indication that children are more sensitive to glyphosate from in utero or postnatal exposure. As part of the human health risk assessment, the agency evaluated all populations, including infants, children and women of child-bearing age, and found no risks of concern from ingesting food with glyphosate residues. US EPA also found no risks of concern for children entering or playing on residential areas treated with glyphosate.
- No evidence that glyphosate causes cancer: The agency concluded that glyphosate is not likely to be carcinogenic to humans. US EPA considered a significantly more extensive and relevant dataset than the International Agency on the Research for Cancer (IARC). US EPA’s database includes studies submitted to support registration of glyphosate and studies US EPA identified in the open literature. US EPA’s cancer classification is consistent with other international expert panels and regulatory authorities, including the Canadian Pest Management Regulatory Agency, Australian Pesticide and Veterinary Medicines Authority, European Food Safety Authority, European Chemicals Agency, German Federal Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, New Zealand Environmental Protection Authority, and the Food Safety Commission of Japan.
- No indication that glyphosate is an endocrine disruptor: Glyphosate has undergone Tier I screening under US EPA’s Endocrine Disruptor Screening Program. Based on all available information, US EPA concluded, using a weight-of-evidence approach that the existing data do not indicate that glyphosate has the potential to interact with the oestrogen, androgen or thyroid signalling pathways. The screening program did not indicate the need for additional testing for glyphosate.
Due to its widespread use, trace amounts of glyphosate residues may be found in various fresh fruits, vegetables, cereals, and other food and beverage commodities. However, these trace amounts are not of concern for the consumer.
Find out more
Who to contact
If you have questions about glyphosate, email firstname.lastname@example.org