Glyphosate-based herbicides are “absolutely fine” according to Britain’s environment secretary. Are they?

Use of glyphosate is demanded by farmers but detested by conservationists
Use of glyphosate is demanded by farmers but detested by conservationists. Image in the public domain as assessed.

Therese Coffey said that glyphosate-based herbicides are perfectly fine. The commercially available herbicide called Roundup contains a glyphosate-based herbicide and the product is known to be dangerous to wildlife. It seems to me that Therese Coffey has decided that intensive farmers should be supported over wildlife. She prefers to protect farmers than wildlife. Therese Coffey said that this potent and dangerous weedkiller is necessary for farmers who are desperate to continue using it.

Yes, they’re desperate to continue using it because their focus is on commercial profit which is totally understandably but it is not understandable when profits are made on the back of damage to wildlife. Surely there is a better middle ground were both wildlife is protected and farmers make a profit?

Therese Coffey believes that glyphosate-based herbicides are necessary for regenerative farming. She is determined that the herbicide will remain available.

Damage to wildlife

It takes very little research to find the extraordinary damage that this herbicide does to wildlife. And also, its rapid increase in usage. Global glyphosate use has risen nearly 15-fold since the mid-1990s. An estimated 90% of global use occurs in America alone.

In 2015 the World Health Organisation classified glyphosate as “probably carcinogenic to humans”. That was based on a growing body of research linking glyphosate to non-Hodgkin lymphoma and other cancers. A groundsman in America won a lawsuit against Monsanto. He argued successfully that his deadly form of non-Hodgkin lymphoma was due to his exposure to his employer’s herbicide namely glyphosate. The company faces 9,000 similar lawsuits. It maintains that there is no link between glyphosate and cancer.

The herbicide dramatically harms the tiny organisms at the base of the food chain. The herbicide can stick around in soil and water for months and perhaps years. It can build up to higher levels.

Researchers have found a link between glyphosate and metabolism, growth, behaviour and reproduction of certain species of fish, molluscs and insects.

For example, a study found that mosquito larva are slower to habituate to non-threatening shadows which means they wasted much energy in diving below the surface when they didn’t need to. Mosquito larvae are an important source of food for many species of animal and this herbicide harms the survival of mosquito larvae. Therefore, indirectly it harms the survival of animals feeding on the larvae.

Studies on bees have suggested that glyphosate may affect their learning processes and increases how much time it takes for bees to find their hives. It impacts the survival of the bee colony.

I could go on because there are so many studies on this but essentially glyphosate impacts the base of the food chain and therefore it could have profound ecological effects.

Therese Coffey must’ve heard about the studies. She’s talked to the farmers and taken their side. It’s as simple as that. And the reason is probably this: the UK is going through a difficult time economically and all the focus is on economic growth at the expense of wildlife. The focus on wildlife conservation under Boris Johnson thanks to his wife has been entirely removed. The acceptance of glyphosate herbicides by the environment secretary is unequivocal in supporting that statement.


In America, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) found that glyphosate is likely to injure or kill 93% of endangered species. In 2018 the environmental campaigner Erin Brockovich wrote a damning report in The Guardian newspaper which stated that glyphosate is “now an ingredient in more than 750 products”. She was saying that the herbicide is on the products we eat because there’s residue on them. And it concerns a wide range of food products.

In May 2019 a California court awarded more than $2 billion in damages to a couple who said that Roundup weedkiller caused their cancer. This was denied by the manufacturer, Bayer, but they are facing more lawsuits.

In the UK, it’s a known fact that the National Farmers Union lobby hard for its continued use. One problem is that plants become resistant to the herbicide. The evidence is that the overwhelming majority of corn and soybean plants in the US are resistant to it.

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