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Is it true that Sri Lanka has become the first country to ban Monsantos RoundUp Ready chemical, glyphosate, in light of recent studies linking it to chronic kidney failure? This is being reported on the net.

A:Expert Answer

No ban has been put in place. On May 13, 2014, the ministry of agriculture announced that efforts to ban glyphosate had been suspended, citing a lack of evidence. (While the attached article states the ban was “lifted,” we do not believe it was ever officially in place.) Please note: we will not attempt to predict an outcome of the political process in Sri Lanka, nor can we predict when the matter will have final resolution. However, glyphosate products have a long history of safe use in countries around the globe, as discussed in GMO Answers. Please read this excerpt from an earlier response by a colleague to a different question on glyphosate product safety, also posted on the GMO Answers website:


“Glyphosate is one of the most widely used and most comprehensively evaluated active ingredients in herbicides worldwide, and all assessments have consistently concluded that glyphosate does not pose any unacceptable risk to human health, the environment or nontarget animals and plants. Glyphosate’s overall low toxicity and its excellent safety profile are major benefits that have contributed to the widespread use of glyphosate-based plant protection products.”




In March 2014, a paper was published (Jayasumana et al.) proposing a theory that glyphosate in combination with heavy metals may cause chronic kidney disease of unknown etiology (CKDu). As the name of this condition indicates, the cause is not known. No evidence to support this theory has been provided. There does appear to be a relationship between farming as an occupation and the occurrence of CKDu, but farming is associated with many different factors: multiple different pesticides, heat stress (considered by some to be a major factor), local water supply and patterns of modern and traditional medication use (for example, modern anti-inflammatories, as farming is hard work), to name a few. These are a list of confounders, not causes. There are no epidemiological or animal testing data suggesting a relationship to glyphosate, and there does not appear to be any justification for restriction on glyphosate based on this theory, which could just as easily be applied to heavy metals in combination with any other chemical or substance of choice. 


In response to this paper, action was taken in the direction of banning the use of glyphosate in Sri Lanka. This ban was not implemented. Rather, restrictions on glyphosate use were to be considered in specific regions where CKDu occurs. A panel of experts was convened to determine where restrictions should be imposed and what those restrictions should be. However, the panel was not convinced of any relationship between glyphosate and renal failure, given only an unsubstantiated hypothesis, and efforts to ban glyphosate import or use have been suspended.


CKDu is a highly political health concern in Sri Lanka. While it appears that the ban is resolved (as of May 13, 2014), we cannot rule out the possibility of further activity.

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