Securing our food supply for years to come: why farmers choose glyphosate to sustainably grow crops.
It’s no secret that the world’s population is growing. By 2050, we’re expected to reach 9.7 billion people worldwide—over 2 billion more than today.1 Unfortunately, the world’s farmable land is not growing along with us. This poses some serious challenges for farmers tasked with producing enough high-quality food to feed Canadians and people around the world.
Canada is currently the 5th largest exporter of food, globally.2 As the population grows, Canadian farmers in particular will play a crucial role in providing the world with the food it needs. Not only will they have to meet more demand than ever before, they will have to do it while they manage pests and diseases that threaten their crops, deal with erratic shifts in weather, and ensure their land is kept healthy and strong for generations of farmers to come.
By 2050, farmers will need to produce 70% more food to meet the demand of the growing population. - The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations’ How to Feed the World in 2050 3
Farmers can’t face this growing demand alone. Fortunately, modern tools and technology, including herbicides like glyphosate, can help farmers manage weeds precisely and effectively, resulting in a more sustainable and secure food supply.
What is glyphosate, exactly?
Glyphosate is a versatile, non-selective herbicide that has been used by farmers, land managers and gardeners around the world for more than 40 years. It works by inhibiting an enzyme which plants—in this case, unwanted weeds—need in order to grow. These enzymes are not present in humans or animals.4 Therefore, when applied correctly, glyphosate poses no risk to either.5
There are also a wide range of uses for glyphosate beyond agriculture. Municipalities use it in urban green spaces to protect the public and wildlife from toxic weeds.6 It’s also used on railways to maintain visibility for train conductors and prevent fires on the tracks.7
More recently, there’s been a heightened level of attention on glyphosate and its use in our lives. While it’s important to question what goes onto and into our food, it’s worth noting that over 160 international government health regulatory agencies, including Health Canada, agree that glyphosate is safe for humans when used correctly.8
Helping Canadians understand what glyphosate is, how it’s used, and the critical role it plays in food production and sustainable farming practices, may ease concerns about what is just one of many tools farmers use to ensure we all have safe, affordable and available food to eat.
Why use glyphosate in agriculture?
The agricultural use of glyphosate-based herbicides benefits farmers, consumers and the environment. It is key to effective weed control, a secure food supply and environmental sustainability. Let’s take a deeper look into each of these benefits.
Globally, farmers lose 30-40% of their crops to weeds, pests and disease.9 Without the use of crop protection practices, these losses could double according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization. It’s a devastating loss, especially for farmers, when you consider that those crops are their livelihood.
Crops vs. weeds—the fight of their life
A farmer’s crops will have to compete with up to 30,000 species of weeds for space, water, nutrients and light.9 Glyphosate gives crops a fighting chance.
So, it’s no wonder farmers have come to depend on tools they can rely on, year after year. Applying glyphosate to fields — especially with glyphosate tolerant crops — is a proven way to prevent destructive weeds from taking over their crops.9 To date, no other weed control method offers the same level of effectiveness, both practically and economically.
Benefits to Canadians and consumers worldwide: abundant, affordable food
Keeping foods we love on the table
When crop protection tools, including glyphosate, are used to protect crops from pests and diseases, farmers are able to grow:
- 42% more grains, like wheat and corn
- 72% more fruit
- 83% more vegetables and potatoes12
The population is growing, and half of today’s food-growing land is at risk of becoming unusable in less than 40 years due to desertification and land degradation.10 This is leading to increased food insecurity. Without modern farming innovations, including the use of glyphosate, Canadians could expect to pay 55% more for food.11
Not only that, the foods we love to eat would be increasingly difficult to get. Thanks to plant science, however, farmers will be able to sustainably grow more of our favourite staple foods for years to come.
Glyphosate doesn’t just help control weeds and keep affordable produce at the grocery store, though. It also helps farmers take care of what Cherilyn Jolly-Nagle, a farmer in Mossbank, Saskatchewan calls “their most valuable asset”—their land.
The benefits are clear. But is glyphosate safe?
To put it simply, yes—and like all pesticides, should always be used according to label directions. In Canada, glyphosate use is regulated by both the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), which inspects crops for pesticide residue, ensuring farmers are using it correctly, and the Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA), which provides the regulatory guidelines, product submission evaluations and approvals (or rejections)—and has one of the most intensive evaluation processes in the world.14
And while regulatory agencies ensure farmers use approved herbicides properly, manufacturers and farmers also play an important role in ensuring glyphosate is used safely and appropriately so that no unintended harm is posed to the environment, animals or humans.
Also, thanks to improvements in technology and the use of precision agriculture, farmers are able to leverage data to be even more precise with their application of glyphosate, both where it’s applied and how much is applied.15
When it comes to pesticide residue, it is rare for glyphosate to be detected on food and, at limits detected, to cause harm. The CFIA ensures farmers use herbicides properly and work within established residue limits.16 On the infrequent occasion that it is found in low levels (e.g., 1 part per billion), it is well below the limit established by the Government of Canada, and not a health or safety concern17 as it would not pose any risk to humans or animals.18
Glyphosate use as part of sustainable farming practices
Farmers use herbicides, like glyphosate, as part of an integrated pest/weed management practices—meaning they use more than just herbicides to control weeds. Glyphosate has enabled them to adopt conservation tillage / no-till practices that provide long-term benefits for the soil, air, and our environment as a whole, including:
- A reduction or elimination of plowing / tilling of land
- Reduction of CO2 emissions
- Capturing carbon in the soil
- Improving soil health
- Reducing water runoff and limiting erosion13
"No pesticide regulatory authority in the world currently considers glyphosate to be a cancer risk to humans at the levels at which humans are currently exposed.” - Health Canada (January 11, 2019)
Ensuring Canadian farmers have the tools, technology and support they need to meet the growing food supply demands of a growing population is more important now than ever before.
Farmers will continue to keep our food safe and plentiful by following good agricultural, food safety and pest management practices. And glyphosate is just one of many tools they will use to make sure Canadians, and people around the world, have access to nutritious and affordable food—now and for generations to come.
3 Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations How to Feed the World in 2050 http://www.fao.org/fileadmin/templates/wsfs/docs/expert_paper/How_to_Feed_the_World_in_2050.pdf