The EPA will place restrictions on use of the world’s most popular herbicide glyphosate, amid growing concern that the chemical causes weed resistance detrimental to farm production. Glyphosate is the key ingredient in Roundup, a widely used weed-killer produced by Monsanto.
The announcement comes amid recent findings by the World Health Organization that glyphosate is “probably carcinogenic to humans,” a conclusion that Monsanto staunchly rebukes. The EPA’s restrictions, however, are not meant to address public health concerns, and instead focus on the herbicide’s contribution to weed resistance, which has been increasing since the late 1990s.
The EPA does not currently consider glyphosate carcinogenic. The agency’s official position is that “there is inadequate evidence to state whether or not glyphosate has the potential to cause cancer from a lifetime exposure in drinking water.”
Though the agency has yet to release specifics of the plan, an EPA spokeswomen told Reuters that restrictions will likely be similar to those already in place for Enlist Duo, a relatively new herbicide produced by Dow AgroSciences. Those restrictions — put in place in 2014 — require Dow to alert the EPA about any instance of weed resistance, and limit the use of the herbicide to certain states. They also include weed monitoring, education for farmers, and remediation plans for any discovered resistance. Plans for the glyphosate restrictions will be finalized after a conference call between the agency and a committee of the Weed Science Society of America next week.
According to the Reuters report, at least 14 species of weed in the United States have developed a resistance to glyphosate, affecting more than 60 million acres of farmland. Worldwide, 32 different weeds are glyphosate-resistant.
Though Roundup is the most famous glyphosate-based weed-killer, it’s not the only product that contains the herbicide: over 750 products that contain glyphosate are sold in the United States. In 2012, at least 283.5 million pounds of glyphosate were used in U.S. agriculture.