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February 14th, 2018 / The Scientist, Canada

Glyphosate, the active ingredient in the world’s most widely used herbicide, Roundup, is arguably also one of the most contentious. Mass protests erupted in Europe last November after the European Commission, following much discussion, granted a five-year extension for the license to use glyphosate in agriculture in the E.U.

Farmers have relied upon glyphosate-based herbicides to kill unwanted vegetation for more than four decades, but its use sparked hefty debate in 2015, when the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) concluded that it was “probably carcinogenic,” adding it to a category that also contains red meat, for instance. This followed previous conclusions by research agencies such as the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that glyphosate is unlikely to pose a cancer risk to humans.

There’s no question that the research around this small molecule has become highly politicized. Environmental activists have claimed that exposure is linked to everything from cancer to celiac disease to autism, while on the other hand, industry-backed reviews have insisted the pesticide has no untoward effects whatsoever.

So where does the science actually stand?

With an estimated 6.1 billion kilograms applied worldwide over the last decade, understanding its risk to farmworkers, consumers, and the environment is paramount. Read more