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Glyphosate is the most important herbicide in agriculture by quantity. A committee of the European Union just recently voted against a ban of the substance, after much debate around possible negative effects on human health. I now see a lot of petitions popping up on social media, calling for an immediate ban. This got me wondering: if Glyphosate would be banned in the near future, say in the course of next year, what problems would arise for farmers? Are there viable alternative weed killers, and would productivity be significantly reduced without using one?

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  • $\begingroup$ As this question seeks the answer related the relative good produced by using glyphosate shouldn't it also try to answer what is the relative bad it produces. As I recall IARC in has listed it as possible carcinogen. $\endgroup$ – Communisty Dec 1 '17 at 10:51
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    $\begingroup$ I would say that would be a question on its own with completely different answers and a much larger potential for debate, since apparently there have been multiple conflicting studies about Glyphosate and human health. I also do not think that our agriculture depending on widespread use of chemicals is a positive thing. Not at all actually, and I'm interested whether Glyphosate specifically is necessary for today's life standard and land use or not. $\endgroup$ – smcs Dec 1 '17 at 12:50
  • $\begingroup$ Good point. Though I'm not sure if this question could be better answered in Chemistry SE or Biology SE. $\endgroup$ – Communisty Dec 1 '17 at 13:27
  • $\begingroup$ @Communisty: But if you want to be technical, everything is a possible carcinogen - including the oxygen in the air: sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/0306987783900336 $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Dec 2 '17 at 3:21
  • $\begingroup$ Dah... Glyphosate is a herbicide not a pesticide. // PS - Don't eat anything since all food contains chemicals. $\endgroup$ – MaxW Dec 2 '17 at 16:45
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Chemistry is not a bad thing; life depends on it. And just because a pesticide or herbicide is natural or synthetic has practically nothing to do with its toxicity. Many so-called natural or organic pesticides are many times more potent than widely-used synthetic ones, as this article mentions.

As to whether or not Glyphosate is necessary, this article explains some of the economic impacts from an outright Glyphosate ban. Some of the effects include:

...French research institute Arvalis suggested a ban would cost that country’s agriculture industry 976 million euros ($1.1 billion). And in Germany, the Kleffmann Group said restrictions could hurt barley and corn output—with profit margin shrinkage between 40 and 70 percent–as farmers start planting alternative, more profitable crops.

Meanwhile, in the United Kingdom, where in 2014 2.2 million hectares of farms—a third of arable land—was treated with glyphosate, Oxford Economics estimated the impact would reduce wheat yields by 12 percent, oilseed/rape yields by 14 percent, and cereal production by 15 percent. Agricultural contributions to the nation’s GDP would shrink by about £930 million ($1.23 billion).


In another article I recall reading (but can't find the citation for), Glyphosate is applied at a rate of only one pint per acre. Farms are not drenched in it as many anti-Glyphosate advocates would have us believe.

As to whether or not Glyphosate is a carcinogen, this article calls much of that into question. Apparently, there were individuals involved who might have benefited substantially by having Glyphosate declared a human carcinogen.

Edit:Some other interesting articles:

This article from Factcheck.org had this interesting tidbit
Q: Does the herbicide glyphosate cause cancer?

A: There is evidence to suggest it may cause cancer at very high doses, but not at the low doses typically found in foods.

and
The European Chemicals Agency...concluded in March 2017 that “the available scientific evidence did not meet the criteria to classify glyphosate as a carcinogen.”

And this article from the-scientist.com said
A new study has found no conclusive link between exposure to glyphosate—the main ingredient in a popular weedkiller—and cancer.

And Reuters in this piece said:
The World Health Organization's cancer agency says a common weedkiller is "probably carcinogenic." The scientist leading that review knew of fresh data showing no cancer link - but he never mentioned it and the agency did not take it into account.

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  • $\begingroup$ Thank you very much for that quote and article, exactly the kind of information I was looking for. Did my question seem in any way biased against Glyphosate to you, though? Interesting that you immediately feel the need to make a case for it. Also I find your first sentence is completely meaningless. You might as well say "Atoms aren't a bad thing--life depends on it". Well yeah, but so does Sarin. $\endgroup$ – smcs Dec 2 '17 at 0:13
  • $\begingroup$ As a chemist I get a knee jerk reaction to any discussion about chemicals. It seems to me that as soon as soon as the general public hears the word chemical that there is a massive negative reaction. What the public fails to realize is that although a strawberry isn't a chemical, it has thousands of them. // I'm certainly not for polluting chemicals, or misusing chemicals. I just prefer to recognize that for our modern society that chemicals are necessary. $\endgroup$ – MaxW Dec 2 '17 at 18:54
  • $\begingroup$ @speedymcs, sorry. That first sentence was motivated by some of the comments left by those responding to your original question and had nothing to do with your original question. Again, my apologies. $\endgroup$ – BillDOe Dec 2 '17 at 21:07
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    $\begingroup$ @Max and Bill I sort of understand that reflex (been there in discussions about e.g. 'big pharma') However, people that think of themselves as scientifically minded often make a passionate stand for GMOs or in this case pesticides. I don't see how anyone profits from that, apart from the industry. This discussion is now focused on health effects, but that's just one possible side effect--after all we're influencing a system whose complexity is way beyond our ability to predict. $\endgroup$ – smcs Dec 5 '17 at 9:51
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    $\begingroup$ E.g. it might very well be that we're taking away the habitat of insects on a huge scale by "sterilizing" farm land. You've probably heard of the recent publication mentioned here: edition.cnn.com/2017/10/19/europe/insect-decline-germany/… $\endgroup$ – smcs Dec 5 '17 at 9:53

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