Review of the Agency’s work on glyphosate

Glyphosate is a herbicidal substance that can act on all plants. Because of its effectiveness, it is widely used in agricultural, forest and non-agricultural areas. In December 2017, the European Union re-approved its use for a further five years. Following the controversies of recent years, in particular regarding its carcinogenic potential, the assessment of products containing glyphosate has been strengthened at European level. In 2018, France initiated a national glyphosate withdrawal plan designed to phase out its main uses, while ensuring that farmers are not left without any alternatives. ANSES conducts studies on this substance and is responsible for issuing marketing authorisations for products containing it.  

Before a product can be marketed, the active substance(s) it contains must have been approved at European level. A substance is approved for a defined period, and is re-assessed according to developments in scientific knowledge and regulations. The products must then obtain authorisation before they can be placed on the market in each Member State. Each product is subject to a scientific assessment according to criteria laid down by the European regulations.

What is glyphosate?

Glyphosate is an active substance found in various herbicide products and used to eliminate unwanted vegetation. It is applied by spraying and is effective on all types of plants. It can be used in a wide range of applications: weed control for vines and fruit trees, elimination of vegetation or intercrops between two seasons for arable crops such as wheat or rapeseed, weed control for railways and industrial sites, etc.

Glyphosate in five dates

  • January 2017: France banned the use of plant protection products for maintaining areas accessible to the public, except where this is impossible for safety reasons (implementation of the Labbé Act).
  • December 2017: the marketing of glyphosate in the European Union was re-approved for a period of five years. The European regulation requires additional data to be provided for assessing products containing glyphosate, mainly on the genotoxic properties of all components.
  • June 2018: the action plan for the withdrawal of glyphosate in France was implemented.
  • January 2019: France banned the use and storage of plant protection products for non-professional use (implementation of the Labbé Act), with the exception of biocontrol products, low-risk products or products authorised in organic production.
  • October 2020: publication of the comparative assessment of non-chemical alternatives to glyphosate and integration of the results into the products' conditions of use. The use of glyphosate is prohibited in situations where it can be substituted by a non-chemical solution.

ANSES's work on glyphosate

Re-assessment of glyphosate at European level
ANSES has been taking part in the re-assessment of the active substance glyphosate, with a view to deciding whether to renew its approval at European level after 2022. This process was initiated on 15 December 2019 and is being led by a consortium of States (Hungary, Sweden, the Netherlands and France). The results will be presented to EFSA in 2021.

Study on glyphosate's carcinogenicity for humans
Following the divergent opinions on the dangers to human health from glyphosate, ANSES received a formal request in 2016 to assess the substance's carcinogenic potential. It concluded that the level of evidence of carcinogenicity in animals and humans was relatively limited and could not be used to propose a classification of glyphosate as a known or presumed human carcinogen. On the other hand, CLP classification in Category 2 (substances suspected of being carcinogenic to humans) could be considered.

Furthermore, in order to improve knowledge on the carcinogenicity of glyphosate, in 2019 ANSES had issued a call for applications to study the carcinogenic potential of glyphosate, in order to obtain results for the re-assessment of the active substance in 2022. However, following the withdrawal of the selected candidates, studies meeting the conditions of the Agency's specifications were not able to be undertaken.

Issuing of marketing authorisations
Approval of the active substance glyphosate in the European Union was renewed for a further five years in 2017. Products containing it can be sold, provided that marketing authorisation is obtained. As with all other plant protection products, ANSES assesses applications and issues marketing authorisations in France.

Comparative assessment of non-chemical alternatives
ANSES conducted a comparative assessment of non-chemical alternatives to glyphosate. It identified situations where glyphosate could be substituted with a non-chemical solution in general use (mainly mechanical weed control) and posing no implementation problems. The use of glyphosate is now prohibited in these situations, and restricted in other cases.

Publication of data from the phytopharmacovigilance scheme
In order to watch out for any possible adverse effects of plant protection products, the Agency collects data on the presence of substance residues in the environment, and on exposure and the impacts on human health and ecosystems. In October 2019, it published a summary of monitoring data on the presence of glyphosate and its main metabolite, aminomethyl-phosphonic acid (AMPA), in water and food, as well as on blood contamination levels in humans.

Did you know?

Glyphosate is the most widely used herbicide in France and in the world
It owes its popularity to its ease of use, its effectiveness on all types of weeds, whether annual or perennial, and its low cost compared to other herbicides.

Glyphosate is an active substance and not a product
Glyphosate is a compound with a herbicidal effect, used as an ingredient in several plant protection products marketed by different companies. A product may contain several active substances.

The number of products containing glyphosate on the market varies, but is in decline
While there were more than 200 products on the French market at the end of 2018, there were only around 30 by the autumn of 2020. This decrease is due to the application of regulations restricting the use of glyphosate, as well as the strengthening of the assessment criteria (see above). However, this number fluctuates, with the finalisation of re-examinations of products on the market, and new applications for marketing authorisation.  

What reduces the quantities used is not restrictions on the number of glyphosate products placed on the market, but rather restrictions on the conditions of their use (capped doses and situations where they are banned)  
Just because a product is withdrawn from the market does not mean that users will necessarily stop using glyphosate: they can use another glyphosate product if it is still on the market and is intended for the same use. Only usage restrictions can have an effect on the quantities used. Product withdrawals are intended to prohibit those with health or environmental effects considered too severe, giving priority to those offering the most safeguards.

Marketing authorisations are granted on a product-by-product basis, with conditions laid down for each of the uses
A manufacturer wishing to market a glyphosate product must submit a marketing authorisation application in the country concerned. The authorisations issued are product-specific, for certain uses and according to a defined quantity used per hectare.

Product assessment takes place according to geographical zone
The assessments carried out on a product are valid in several countries of the European Union. France is part of the "South" zone: a manufacturer can therefore apply for assessment in France, Italy or Spain. The marketing authorisation decision  is then taken by each country on the basis of the common assessment carried out by one of the Member States.