The herbicide glyphosate, N-(phosphonomethyl) glycine, has been used extensively in the past 40years, under the assumption that side effects were minimal. However, in recent years, concerns have increased worldwide about the potential wide ranging direct and indirect health effects of the large scale use of glyphosate. In 2015, the World Health Organization reclassified glyphosate as probably carcinogenic to humans. A detailed overview is given of the scientific literature on the movement and residues of glyphosate and its breakdown product aminomethyl phosphonic acid (AMPA) in soil and water, their toxicity to macro- and microorganisms, their effects on microbial compositions and potential indirect effects on plant, animal and human health. Although the acute toxic effects of glyphosate and AMPA on mammals are low, there are animal data raising the possibility of health effects associated with chronic, ultra-low doses related to accumulation of these compounds in the environment. Intensive glyphosate use has led to the selection of glyphosate-resistant weeds and microorganisms. Shifts in microbial compositions due to selective pressure by glyphosate may have contributed to the proliferation of plant and animal pathogens. Research on a link between glyphosate and antibiotic resistance is still scarce but we hypothesize that the selection pressure for glyphosate-resistance in bacteria could lead to shifts in microbiome composition and increases in antibiotic resistance to clinically important antimicrobial agents. We recommend interdisciplinary research on the associations between low level chronic glyphosate exposure, distortions in microbial communities, expansion of antibiotic resistance and the emergence of animal, human and plant diseases. Independent research is needed to revisit the tolerance thresholds for glyphosate residues in water, food and animal feed taking all possible health risks into account.
Keywords: AMPA; Antibiotic resistance; Microbial community; Plant and animal health; Residues; Roundup.
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