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How glyphosate is regulated in New Zealand

May 2017

The EPA puts controls in place to manage the risks of hazardous substances to safeguard people and the environment. This page describes the legal framework for doing this, and gives more details about how the risks of glyphosate are assessed, monitored and managed.

New Zealand's legal framework: regulating glyphosate and other herbicides

The registration and approval of herbicides, such as glyphosate, is a responsibility of both the EPA under the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms (HSNO) Act 1996, and the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) under the Agricultural Compounds and Veterinary Medicines (ACVM) Act 1997.

Under the HSNO Act all hazardous substances require approval by the EPA before they can be used in New Zealand. The EPA has approved approximately 60 substances containing glyphosate under this Act.

Once approval under the HSNO Act is granted, products which meet that approval may be registered under the ACVM Act. The ACVM Act regulates the importation, manufacture, sale and use of all products used in the agricultural and horticultural industries to eliminate pests, treat and prevent diseases, and otherwise manage animals and plants.

The ACVM Act manages risks to trade, agricultural security, public health and animal welfare along with ensuring compliance with domestic residue standards for pesticides, veterinary medicines and other agricultural compounds. There were 94 glyphosate products registered under the ACVM Act on 1 June 2016. (Note: a single HSNO approval can cover more than one ACVM registered product.)

Glyphosate report released          

The EPA commissioned Dr Wayne Temple, a toxicologist and former Director of the New Zealand National Poisons Centre, to undertake a scientific review of glyphosate.The overall conclusion of report Review of the Evidence Relating to Glyphosate and Carcinogenicity is that glyphosate is unlikely to be genotoxic or carcinogenic to humans and does not require classification under HSNO as a carcinogen or mutagen. The 19-page report was  published in August 2016 and is available below, along with a two-page lay summary of the report.  ​

International best practice

The current international opinion by national authorities in countries such as the US, Canada, the EU and Australia is that glyphosate is safe to be used as a herbicide.

We monitor international developments and the latest research available through a wide range of scientific media.

In March 2015, the World Health Organization’s (WHO) cancer research group, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), publicised their conclusions, which classified glyphosate in a group of chemicals that is ‘probably carcinogenic to humans’.

IARC identifies chemical hazards and does not assess the risks from using chemicals. Their determination only relates to whether glyphosate has the potential to cause cancer but does not make any comment on whether glyphosate is likely to cause cancer in humans when used properly.  

Another WHO assessment group, the Joint Meeting on Pesticide Residues (JMPR) (which assesses risk from pesticide residues in food) has previously ​ determined that glyphosate does not pose a cancer risk to humans. 

A joint expert task force comprising scientists from the WHO, national governments and universities was convened to review the information considered by IARC and to determine whether there is a need to update the previous assessments on glyphosate undertaken by the JMPR. 

This task force noted that the IARC report includes information not previously reviewed by the JMPR and recommended a re-evaluation of glyphosate.

The JMPR met in May 2016 to discuss their assessment of glyphosate.  A summary of their evaluation was published on 16 May 2016. The JMPR concluded that glyphosate is unlikely to pose a carcinogenic risk to humans from exposure through the diet. 

Europe

Glyphosate has also been reviewed in the European Union. In November 2015, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and the EU Member States finalised their reassessment of glyphosate. The EFSA assessment considered a large body of evidence which included the IARC report as well as additional studies that were not considered by IARC. The EFSA report concluded that 'glyphosate is unlikely to pose a carcinogenic hazard to humans'.

In June 2016, the European Commission extended the registration of glyphosate for 18 months. The draft assessment by ECHA concluded that there was not sufficient evidence to support a carcinogenicity hazard classification of glyphosate. Public consultation was held over the summer of 2016. 

The European Chemicals Agency Risk Assessment Committee reported its findings in mid-March 2017. It agreed to maintain the classification of glyphosate as a substance causing serious eye damage and being toxic to aquatic life with long-lasting effects.  

It also concluded that available scientific evidence did not meet the criteria to classify glyphosate as a carcinogen, a mutagen or as toxic for reproduction. The Risk Assessment Committee’s opinion will be taken into account when the European Commission and Member States consider whether to renew the approval to use glyphosate as an active substance in pesticides later this year. 

USA

Currently, the US EPA is re-assessing glyphosate as part of its Registration Review program. In September 2016, the US EPA published their assessment of the carcinogenic potential of glyphosate, which concluded that glyphosate is not likely to be carcinogenic to humans at doses relevant to human health risk assessment.

Canada

In 2015, Health Canada’s Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA) released its proposed re-evaluation decision on glyphosate as part of its standard regulatory procedure. Using a weight-of-evidence approach, the PMRA concluded that glyphosate was unlikely to cause cancer in humans. This document underwent public consultation in 2015 and in April 2017 the PMRA released its re-evaluation decision.

The PMRA’s re-evaluation process, which included an assessment of available scientific information and consideration of submissions received, concluded that products containing glyphosate do not present risks of concern to human health or the environment when used according to the revised label directions. Consequently, the PMRA is granting continued registration of glyphosate-containing products.

The re-evaluation found that “glyphosate is not genotoxic and is unlikely to pose a human cancer risk”, that risks to workers, or glyphosate use in residential settings, are not of concern “provided that updated label instructions are followed”. In terms of environmental effects, the PMRA has imposed the use of buffer zones in order to mitigate potential risks to non-target species from spray drift exposure.

The PMRA has imposed a number of restrictions:

  • glyphosate cannot be applied using hand-wicking or hand-daubing methods;

  • a minimum restricted entry interval of 12 hours for entry into treated agricultural sites;

  • use of buffer zones to protect non-target terrestrial and aquatic habitats;

  • additional label information to inform users of measures to take to protect bystanders and reduce potential for glyphosate run-off.

The PMRA noted that glyphosate is an important herbicide for weed management in Canadian agriculture and non-agricultural land management (including forestry).

Health Canada notes that it has been collaborating with the US Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) on the re-evaluation of glyphosate. In December 2016, the USEPA Scientific Advisory Panel (SAP) discussed the cancer potential of glyphosate, and Health Canada's PMRA participated as an observer. The final SAP meeting report was posted on March 17, 2017. The PMRA continually monitors other regulatory organizations’ activity. This includes the USEPA's review of the SAP recommendations and final determination regarding the potential carcinogenicity of glyphosate.

Australia

The Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA) evaluated the IARC report and other contemporary scientific assessments as part of an established chemical review nomination process. The APVMA evaluation included a review of the IARC monograph by the Department of Health and risk assessments undertaken by expert international bodies and regulatory agencies. The APVMA concluded that glyphosate does not pose a carcinogenic risk to humans and that there are no grounds to place it under formal reconsideration. 

Will the EPA reassess glyphosate in the future?

Over time, new information about a hazardous substance may emerge which suggests that the risks to human health and/or the environment may not be appropriately managed by the existing controls for the substance. When this happens, the EPA may reassess the approval for the substance. Glyphosate is on the Chief Executive Initiated Reassessment (CEIR) Programme list, which means that we are actively monitoring its status and international developments. 

If EPA staff consider a formal review is needed after reviewing the overseas reports, a reassessment may be initiated, but on the weight of evidence to date, glyphosate does not require classification under HSNO as a carcinogen or mutagen.

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