Environmental safety

Glufosinate-ammonium has been thoroughly tested for environmental safety. Research concludes that the herbicide is safe to use when instructions are followed. It is not significantly active in soil and is rapidly degraded by micro-organisms, making the risk of water contamination very unlikely. Several product stewardship initiatives instruct farmers on how to minimize potential impact on the environment through good agricultural practices.

A balanced approach

Glufosinate-ammonium rapidly degrades in soil
Glufosinate-ammonium rapidly degrades in soil

As a non-selective herbicide, Glufosinate-ammonium effectively controls a wide variety of weeds without tillage. Reduced tillage is essential for the fertility of the soil as it preserves essential nutrients. It also reduces manpower, tractor use and ground disturbance which makes it more resource-efficient in terms of energy consumption due to reduced use of machinery, giving it a low carbon footprint.

As Glufosinate-ammonium rapidly degrades in soil, contamination of groundwater is very unlikely. Other preventive measures such as appropriate rinsing of the application equipment, away from springs, wells or watercourses, further ensure that no residues reach groundwater. Farmers are also advised how best to apply products with Glufosinate-ammonium. They take into account variable conditions at their farm – such as the amount of rainfall and soil type – and are made aware of specific best practices for the application of this herbicide.

As an example, growers are advised to apply this herbicide when the wind is blowing at speeds lower than 4 meters per second. In addition, the use of specialized equipment reduces drift during spraying.

Biodiversity is preserved if farmers use a balanced approach to pest management. Correct application and the implementation of best agricultural practices help farmers preserve useful insects, pollinators, birds and the biodiversity on their land.  When used according to label instructions, Glufosinate-ammonium does not pose any unacceptable risk to the environment or non-target plants.

Safety for mammals

Numerous studies on Glufosinate-ammonium have found that adverse effects in animals in real-life conditions are extremely unlikely. In orchards, for example, farmers apply Glufosinate-ammonium to the ground vegetation beneath the trees in a band treatment, and not over the entire field. After treatment, mammals instinctively shy away from treated areas as weeds start wilting.

Studies that look at dietary toxicity under field conditions show significantly lower risk to mammals in comparison to studies based on unrealistic laboratory conditions and dose.

In one review of Glufosinate-ammonium, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) took a highly conservative approach to risk-assessment using a worst case scenario under unrealistic conditions. The Authority assumed for instance that the animals are feeding continuously and exclusively on treated and wilted weeds. In addition, the EFSA’s exposure values were beyond recent recommended doses, and were thus not in compliance with the correct use of the product. Furthermore, it disregarded preventive measures such as band treatment or mammals’ behavior in the fields.

Several national authorities in the European Union have analyzed data on Glufosinate-ammonium since, and have concluded that the acute and reproductive risk to mammals is low or acceptable considering the band treatment and feeding preferences of mammals.

Did you know?

  • Conservation (or reduced) tillage enhances the organic matter content in the superficial layer of the soil1 and can reduce soil erosion by up to 90% compared to intensive tillage.2
By 2050, the proportion of the population facing stressed water supplies is expected to increase by 500% and the number facing full water scarcity is expected to increase by 800%.3
  • Reducing soil erosion by conservation tillage is essential to make the earth less likely to dry out.
1 | Madejóna, E., Morenoa, F., Murilloa, J.M., Pelegrínb, F. (2007). Soil biochemical response to long-term conservation tillage under semi-arid Mediterranean conditions. Soil and Tillage Research 94: 2. pp. 346–352. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0167198706001954
2 | Conservation Technology Information Center (CTIC). Top 10 Conservation Tillage Benefits. http://www.ctic.purdue.edu/resourcedisplay/293/
3 | Farming First. Water. http://www.farmingfirst.org/portal/water/
Soil health science challenges ancient agriculture concepts

Jon Stika and researchers at the North Dakota State University's Dickinson Research Extension Center have been trying to clear misconceptions about the soil for many years now as they make new discoveries and introduce new paradigms to the world of soil health. Soil is an "agri-biome" which refers to an interdependent environment of organisms serving a greater whole. An example Stika gave is the "human biome" which is the description given to all of the microbial organisms that live within and upon human beings. Stika anecdotally revealed that he's been practicing no-till in his personal garden for 15 years now. Recently he sought to plant some sweet corn, and after he sent his soil off to get tested, the results came back and told him he didn't need to add any additional fertilizer.

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Is Glufosinate-ammonium toxic? If so, is it safe for use?

In the EU, Glufosinate-ammonium is classified for presumed human reproductive toxicity, based on laboratory studies – for example, on rats – at doses impossible under realistic and responsible conditions of use. Glufosinate-ammonium is not classified for carcinogenic or endocrine disrupting effects.

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