Pest sprays, fertilizers and many other gardening products can be harmful and we have some tips on how to stay safe. You'll find info on glyphosate here too.
For more advice call The Poisons Centre on 0800 764 766 (0800 POISON).
If a person is not breathing or is unconscious, call 111 immediately.
You can take your first step to making your home safer by learning about all the gardening products you use. A good way to start is by reading the label.
You should remember that:
- ‘natural’, ‘organic’, and ‘environmentally friendly’ products can still be hazardous.
- you should always keep gardening products in their original packages or containers.
When you’re thinking of buying new products:
- Think about whether the job you want to do could be done another way – for example, pulling weeds by hand.
- Seek advice to select the safest and most effective product for the job. You can make your home and garden safer by choosing products that are as gentle as possible. The staff at the store where you buy your products may be able to help with this.
- Avoid buying large quantities of a product unless you are sure you will use it soon.
Take care while you garden
Before you get to work in the garden, check the back of all the products you plan to use to see what you can do to keep yourself and others safe.
- If you're working on plants that are for eating, check the label to see how long you need to wait before the plant or vegetable will be safe to eat. Write this down somewhere so you don’t forget.
- Wear gloves, and check the label to see if you need other protection like a face mask or safety glasses.
- Keep products away from your eyes and face, and off your skin.
- Choose a calm day. Wind can blow products into your eyes and face, or onto other people.
- Be very careful if you are working near streams or other water. Many garden products should not be used near water. Never pour leftover products down stormwater drains.
- Ask your local your garden centre for advice and always read labels before you buy and use. Do not buy or use products that don’t have labels.
When you're done
You have finished spraying, and put all your products away. Time for a few more steps to keep yourself and others safe:
- Dispose of any used bottles or containers of gardening products according to the directions on the label. Never pour unused products down drains.
- If you got any gardening products on your clothes, take them off and wash them. If you use a washing machine, make sure to wash these items in a separate load to your other clothes.
- Wash your hands, and any other areas that may have come into contact with any gardening products.
Store your gardening products immediately when you’re done.
You can keep yourself, others and the environment safe by making sure you store all your gardening products carefully in a place that is:
- hard for children or pets to access. The best option is in a cabinet or cupboard that is higher than they could reach or climb, with a locked or child-safe door.
- away from food, including pet food.
- far away from anything hot. Avoid places close to barbeques, fireplaces or other heat sources.
- clean and dry.
When putting your gardening products away:
- Keep all products in their original packaging.
- Clean any drips or spills from the outside of the bottle or container.
- Check the bottle or container is closed properly.
- Make sure the product has not expired. If it has, dispose of it according to the directions on the label, or seek advice to find out how to dispose of it safely.
Take extra care to protect children
Be extra careful if you have young children or pets. Some garden products could make them sick if they eat or drink them. Make sure to:
- keep young children away while you are using gardening products.
- read the label to check how long you must keep away from an area after it has been treated, and follow this advice carefully. If there is nothing on the label to tell you to stay away from the area, then keep children away at least until the spray has dried.
- put away all gardening products as soon as you are finished with them. You should store them in a locked or child-safe cupboard that is out of children’s reach and sight.
- consider avoiding pellet-type products, such as snail poisons and fertilizers. These can be attractive to young children, and they won’t be able to tell they are dangerous, so may eat them.
- ensure your rubbish bin, if this is where you have thrown away old or unused products, is somewhere children can’t get to. Children can get into rubbish bins, and may get sick if they consume any unused garden products.
Do your bit for the bees
There are rules to protect people and the environment, and there are also some basic measures you can use to protect bees.
Here are some things to think about:
- Consider if there are other options to using chemical products and sprays, such as weeding and mulching.
- Avoid using chemical sprays in areas where you can see bees foraging.
- Avoid spraying budding or flowering plants.
- Avoid spraying during daylight hours when bees are at their most active with foraging and pollinating.
Stay safe with glyphosate
All glyphosate substances used in New Zealand have been through an approval process, which considers likely impacts on human health and the environment. To reduce the risks posed by glyphosate, we recommend you follow the advice below.
When using any chemical, you should start by reading the label. This will tell you the specific risks for the product, and how you can reduce these risks.
Before you spray
- Read all instructions on the label and follow them.
- Make sure you are using the right product for the job you are doing.
- Confirm your spray area is not close to water, such as streams, rivers, lakes or ponds.
- Check the weather forecast. Make sure no rain is predicted for at least 24 hours. Avoid spraying when it is windy.
- Clear children and pets from the area, and keep them well away.
- Follow the label advice on the need for protective clothing.
- Wash your hands, face and clothing.
- Keep children and pets away until the spray has dried, or for the amount of time indicated on the label.
- Read the instructions on the label to help you safely dispose of any unused product.
Storing glyphosate safely
You should follow these simple recommendations to protect yourself, others, and the environment:
- Keep it locked up and out of reach of children and pets.
- Store the product in its original container.
- Make sure it is kept far away from food, including pet food.
- Dispose of empty herbicide containers and unused herbicides properly.
- Check the label instructions and use-by date before each re-use.
The EPA's report on glyphosate
We 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 his report 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, along with a two-page summary of the report for non-scientific audiences.
How glyphosate is regulated in New Zealand
Glyphosate is a chemical used to control weeds. It is a broad-spectrum herbicide that works by inhibiting an enzyme found in plants. Glyphosate substances are perhaps the most common herbicide in New Zealand and world-wide, and are used commercially and around the home. We have approved glyphosate for use in New Zealand.
We put 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.)
The use of glyphosate in New Zealand
Glyphosate substances are used in a wide variety of settings, including orchards, vineyards, pastures, vegetable patches, roadways, parks and sports fields and home gardens. Glyphosate has been used in New Zealand since 1976 and is currently sold under a large number of different brand names.
The safety of glyphosate
Based on our current assessment, people are advised that following the label instructions on all glyphosate products provides adequate protection for users.
People should follow the use and safety instructions on all chemical product labels, as these are designed to reduce human exposure to the product and to protect the environment.
If the label has been removed or damaged, you can search the manufacturer’s website to find the relevant safety information.
We operate under the HSNO Act to put controls in place to manage the risks of hazardous substances to safeguard people and the environment.
Will we 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, we may reassess the approval for the substance.
If we 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.
How glyphosate is regulated overseas
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.
Glyphosate was approved for use within the European Union with certain conditions from 2002 onwards. Between 2012 and 2015, it was assessed against subsequent 2009 legislation for pesticide use, from which the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) concluded that 'glyphosate is unlikely to pose a carcinogenic hazard to humans'.
In June 2016, the European Commission extended the registration of glyphosate for another 18 months by the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA). The extension gave a limited period of time for further investigation. At the time, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC, an agency of the World Health Organisation) had a different opinion from EFSA about the potential for glyphosate to cause cancer.
The European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) Risk Assessment Committee investigated the hazardous properties of glyphosate and reported its findings in mid-March 2017. In line with EFSA, with other studies around the world, and with the Joint Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations: they concluded that there is no evidence to link glyphosate to cancer in humans. They also concluded that it should not be classified as a substance that causes genetic damage (mutagen) or disrupts reproduction. The Committee agreed to keep the classification of glyphosate as a substance that causes serious eye damage and is toxic to aquatic life. It also concluded that glyphosate should not be classified as a substance that causes genetic damage (a mutagen) or disrupts reproduction.
In mid-2017, the European Commission reopened discussions about glyphosate use with its Member States. In December 2017, its Members voted to approve glyphosate for use for another five years.
Currently, the US EPA is re-assessing glyphosate as part of its Registration Review program. In September 2016, the USEPA 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.
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 (US EPA) on the re-evaluation of glyphosate. In December 2016, the US EPA 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 17 March 2017. The PMRA continually monitors other regulatory organizations’ activity. This includes the US EPA's review of the SAP recommendations and final determination regarding the potential carcinogenicity of glyphosate.
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.