Is Glyphosate (Roundup) Banned in the UK?

Tractor spraying herbicide on field

Glyphosate is the most commonly used herbicide worldwide, and is the active ingredient in Monsanto’s broad-spectrum weed control product Roundup.

It was also declared a potential health risk in 2015 when the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) reported that the chemical is “probably carcinogenic to humans.”

Many research studies have further looked into the toxicity and health risks of glyphosate, causing the European Union to put a ban on the chemical that comes into effect on 15 December 2022.

But is glyphosate banned in the UK? Keep reading to find out.


Is Glyphosate Banned in the United Kingdom?

Glyphosate is currently approved for use in Great Britain, as it is elsewhere in countries in the EU.

A UK ban on the chemical was set to come into effect on 15 December 2022, aligned with the decision from the European Commission.

However, with the UK leaving the EU following Brexit, Britain now makes its own regulatory decisions.

According to the Plant Protection Production Regulations 2019 as part of the EU exit strategy, all products set to expire under EU legislation are granted a three-year extension. Therefore, glyphosate can now legally be used until at least 15 December 2025.

After this date, legislation may change to ban Roundup and other glyphosate herbicides, but the chemical remains legal for now.


How Is Glyphosate Harmful to Humans?

Several animal studies lead the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) to classify glyphosate as “possibly carcinogenic” (cancer-causing) in humans.

One study found tumours in mice with cancer grew significantly faster when exposed to the chemical.

Other studies looking at the mechanism of glyphosate in the body found that the herbicide causes genetic mutations that can lead to certain cancers.

Human epidemiological studies supported these animal studies to provide insight into the direct effects on human health. Two types of epidemiological studies were carried out, which either:

  1. Collected information from people with cancer and see if there has been any glyphosate chemical exposure in the past; or
  2. Followed people exposed to glyphosate to see if they developed cancer more than people that didn’t handle the chemical

In both cases, epidemiological studies supported the notion that glyphosate can cause cancer in humans. This is the biggest risk of Roundup and other glyphosate herbicides, and why the EU has banned the use of the chemical as of later this year.

Crops growing in field

What Are the Environmental Risks of Glyphosate?

Alongside risks to human health, chemical herbicides are extremely damaging to the environment.

Glyphosphate is a particularly damaging chemical as it is a non-selective herbicide (also called a broad-spectrum herbicide). This means that it kills all existing plants at their roots, not just weeds.

This dramatically impacts all plant life and the biodiversity of the surrounding environment.

Insects are the most directly affected, but animals further up the food chain are also impacted.

Biodiversity is a growing issue in the UK, with flying insect numbers declining by almost 60%. Continuing to use non-specific herbicides, especially in public spaces, is a big issue for the United Kingdom.


Why Doesn’t the UK Government Ban Glyphosate?

The evidence for glyphosate as a carcinogenic and environmentally-damaging substance is strong, so why doesn’t the UK government ban Roundup?

According to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), the UK has strict approval processes for herbicides to protect people, animals, and the environment. All glyphosate-containing products on the market have been proven “safe” according to these standards.

Despite the 2015 announcement from the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), studies from UK regulatory authorities found no significant safety risks.

As part of the authorisation process, the HSE also specifies precisely where the chemical herbicides can be used to ensure public exposure is kept to a minimum and protect vulnerable habitats.

When used in public places, herbicides are only permitted if they deliver “substantial benefits for society,” such as creating safe public spaces and managing conservation areas.


Will the UK Ban Glyphosate in the Future?

It is unclear whether the UK will ban glyphosate after 2025 or extend the approval of the chemical herbicide. However, its usage in Great Britain is slowly declining.

After an increase in the public interest, 70 to 80 councils up and down the UK have stopped using the chemical. Some have switched to chemical-free alternatives, whereas others are letting weeds and wildflowers grow.

Nevertheless, some councils prioritise weed-free pavements to help improve walkways for people with mobility issues and disabilities.

UK councils likely need an outright ban or new legislation to increase efforts to eliminate glyphosate herbicide use UK-wide.

In the meantime, read our guide on how to avoid glyphosate in food if you’d like to minimise your consumption of it.

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