Q What is glyphosate and what is it used for?
A Glyphosate is an herbicide used in a lot of weedkiller products in the UK including Roundup. It is applied to the leaves of plants to kill both broadleaf plants and grasses. It is absorbed by the leaves and then travels to the growing parts of the plant. Once there, it prevents the plant from making proteins that are needed for growth. This means it kills the whole of the plant, including the roots, making good at dealing with perennial weeds, such as dandelions, where the plant will regrow if the root is not killed or removed entirely.
Caption: It's important not to get glyphosate on the leaves of plants you want to keep
Q What are the concerns over its use?
A The main concern is that glyphosate can cause cancer. This view has been supported by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, the World Health Organisation's cancer agency, which reviewed a number of studies on glyphosate from around the world and concluded that it was "probably carcinogenic to humans" in 2015. In 2018 a man who claimed herbicides containing glyphosate had caused his cancer won £226m in damages from the company Monsanto who make glyphosate.
A second concern is the negative effect glyphosate use has on bee health. Studies from the US have shown that bees exposed to glyphosate lost healthy gut bacteria, which left them vulnerable to fatal infections.
Several countries including Colombia, the Netherlands, Sri Lanka and France have introduced bans or partial bans on its use. Germany is planning to end the use of glyphosate by 2023.
Q Is it legal to use products containing glyphosate in the UK?
A The short answer is yes. The European Commission has said that the European Food Safety Authority, the European Chemicals Agency and other scientific bodies have also evaluated studies from around the world and found no link to cancer in humans. In 2017 the European Union extended the licence for use of glyphosate for five years. The UK was among the states in favour of glyphosate renewal.
Q What alternatives are there to using glyphosate?
A If you don't want to use chemicals, the best way to control perennial weeds is to dig them up, being careful to remove all the roots.