Roundup and other popular weed killers rely on a powerful chemical called glyphosate in order to be effective. Glyphosate is an herbicide, and in addition to killing unwanted plants, it's also used to help speed up crop harvesting by drying out plants or removing leaves.
Despite its widespread use, glyphosate has received plenty of negative publicity recently, including a potential link between use of these products and diagnoses of non-Hodgkins lymphoma and other serious health problems. Lawsuits over the safety of Roundup (glyphosate) have resulted in large verdict awards for plaintiffs.
Despite these high profile cases and tens of thousands of other similar lawsuits, Roundup and other weed killers containing glyphosate remain available for sale in the United States. (Note that in July 2021, Bayer announced a plan to introduce a glyphosate-free version of Roundup for residential use by 2023.)
There are at least two reasons why Roundup will likely remain available for commercial/agricultural use for the near future. The first reason has to do with its widespread use and the extensive reliance on glyphosate by farmers and other food producers. Roundup and other herbicides containing glyphosate allow farmers to reduce production costs and increase harvest yields.
For example, farmers apply glyphosate to their crops to help dry them out faster, or to help kill unwanted leaves. This can significantly reduce the time it takes to harvest a crop. This is especially useful in regions where growing and harvesting periods are relatively short.
Glyphosate is especially popular among farmers for the harvesting of grains and cereals, such as rice, oats, and barley.
The second reason is likely the biggest factor in why Roundup is not subject to a recall. Specifically, the link between glyphosate and harm to human health is still subject to debate.
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) evaluation of glyphosate data, when humans use glyphosate as directed by the product's label, there are "no risks of concern to human health from current uses." The EPA also concluded that there is "no evidence that glyphosate causes cancer in humans."
The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) disagrees, stating that glyphosate is "probably carcinogenic."
Despite the large number of lawsuits and the IARC's conclusion, the EPA isn't alone in refusing to declare that glyphosate causes cancer in people. Other government regulators and agencies around the world have come to similar conclusions. These include:
This doesn't mean Roundup and glyphosate are harmless. Rather, it's the position of the EPA and Bayer (the maker of Roundup) that glyphosate is reasonably safe when used properly, or when exposure to this chemical is within tolerance limits. If you're curious, you can find the exact EPA tolerance limits for glyphosate at 40 CFR § 180.364.
Products containing glyphosate aren't going anywhere anytime soon. However, as noted above, Bayer (the manufacturer of Roundup), intends to stop selling any glyphosate-based version of the product by 2023, and plans to introduce a "new formulation" relying on "alternative active ingredients." So it's possible that once that happens, products like Roundup will no longer use glyphosate, or glyphosate may lose its overall popularity as an herbicide.
Learn more about the timeline of a typical Roundup (glyphosate) case. And if you're thinking about taking legal action over health problems potentially caused by your use of a glyphosate product, get tips on finding the right lawyer for you and your case.