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.

Approved uses in New Zealand

In New Zealand, glyphosate products only have approved label claims for weed control. There are no approved:

  • label claims for its use as a desiccant (to speed up maturation of crops)
  • 'Roundup-ready' crops (crops which have been bred or genetically modified to be resistant to glyphosate).

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 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.
  • Food safety – MPI sets the maximum residue levels (MRLs) for pesticides, including herbicides, in foods.
  • Monitoring – MPI monitors food production for chemical residues.
  • Testing – MPI periodically tests raw milk and crops for glyphosate. In 2014/15, we tested processed fresh milk and cream from retailers, as well as raw milk. No glyphosate residues were detected. In 2015/16 we tested pea and wheat crops. No glyphosate residues were detected in peas and no levels of food safety concern were detected in wheat. 

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.

No glyphosate found in New Zealand 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.

Pea and wheat crops tested for glyphosate

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. Residue levels are checked against MRLs. 

The aim of the survey programme is to confirm that New Zealand growers and importers are following Good Agricultural Practice (GAP). GAP means they use the lowest amount of the pesticide to achieve its purpose.

Results from 2015/2016 survey

MPI 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 0.1mg/kg.

The results were assessed and indicated no food safety concern. At the highest level 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.

Further investigations

Because the levels in the wheat samples appeared to be greater than expected, MPI 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, MPI is reviewing the wording on labels for pre-harvest weed control in cereal crops for clarity and consistency. This will include 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

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

The Joint 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 via dietary exposure is very low.

MPI agreed with the conclusions in both JMPR reports in our assessment of the dietary risk of glyphosate to New Zealand and international consumers.

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 levels.

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.

Find out more

Who to contact

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

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