Archived press release
Press & Media
The Government is being urged to take urgent action on pesticides after laboratory tests, published today (Thursday 13 June 2013) by Friends of the Earth and GM Freeze found traces of the weed killer glyphosate in the bodies of people across numerous European countries, including Britain.
Urine tests of 182 volunteers in 18 countries across Europe, found that on average 44 per cent of samples contained traces of glyphosate. Of the ten samples taken in the UK, seven had weed killer traces.
All the volunteers who gave samples live in cities, and none had handled or used glyphosate products in the run up to the tests. This is the first time monitoring has been carried out across Europe for the presence of the weed killer in humans.
Glyphosate is one of the most widely-used weed killers in the world, used by farmers, local government and gardeners, as well as sprayed extensively on some genetically modified crops which are then imported into Europe for use as animal feed. The biggest producer is Monsanto which sells it under the brand name Roundup. Despite its widespread use, its presence in food, animal feed or surface and ground water is rarely monitored by governments.
Friends of the Earth Food and Farming campaigner Vicki Hird said:
“It’s alarming that so many people have traces of weed killer in their bodies – we need to find out how it got there and what effect it is having.
“Governments must take urgent action to reduce the use of pesticides and immediately step-up monitoring programmes to ensure people and wildlife, such as bees, are not put at risk.”
Pete Riley Campaign Director GM Freeze said:
"We want to know why GM soya and maize imported into Europe for animal feed is not tested for glyphosate. These GM crops are treated with the chemical and are more likely to contain residues. Is this where the weed killer is coming from?
“Given the growing health concerns about glyphosate this lack of vigilance is unacceptable. The European Commission needs to sort this out immediately and improve monitoring. We need to know how this weed killer is getting into our bodies and what it is doing to us and our environment."
Notes to editors:
1. Urine samples were collected from volunteers in Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, France, Georgia, Germany, Hungary, Latvia, Macedonia, Malta, Poland, Spain, Switzerland, the Netherlands and UK. Volunteers were all city-dwellers and included vegetarian and non-vegetarian diets. No two samples were tested from the same household. The samples were analysed by Dr Hoppe at Medizinisches Labor Bremen in Germany (http://www.mlhb.de/).
In the UK, ten samples were taken in March 2013 from 5 men and 5 women living in London – all of whom are Friends of the Earth staff and volunteers. Seven showed traces of glyphosate residues.
2. In Europe, glyphosate is widely used by farmers to clear weeds from fields before planting, or before seeds have germinated. It is also sometimes sprayed on to cereal crops, oilseed rape, maize and sunflowers ahead of harvesting to dry out the crops. It is the most commonly used weed killer on UK arable farms.
3. Fourteen glyphosate-resistant genetically modified (GM) crops are currently waiting for approval for cultivation in the European Union. Some estimates suggest that if given the go-ahead, glyphosate use could increase by as much as 800%.
4. A background media briefing ‘Glyphosate – reasons for concern’ is available here.
5. More information, including results of the glyphoste testing, available here