Glyphosate is the rock star of pesticides, albeit a controversial one. With 6.1 billion kilograms applied globally in the last decade alone, it is the most widely used herbicide compound in the world. Glyphosate, is at the centre of an acrimonious controversy relating to whether the substance is carcinogenic to humans and toxic for the environment. The controversy took a sharp legal turn when, in March 2015, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), which is the specialised cancer agency of the World Health Organization (WHO), classified glyphosate as ‘probably carcinogenic to humans’, while regulatory authorities worldwide have attributed non-carcinogenic properties to the substance and have authorised its use as an active substance in pesticides.

In an illuminating essay on ‘Scientific Objects and Legal Objectivity’, Bruno Latour posits that the latter is ‘object-less.’ Glyphosate, by contrast, is a vibrant example of the object-ness of (international) law. The peculiarity of glyphosate is that it is an object of law and science at the same time and in the same space. By charting the recent regulatory history of glyphosate, this article shows how this pesticide has been ‘subjected’ to law through a politics of separation. In the hybrid regulatory space where science and law interact, law retains its authority by cutting off arguments from the decisionmaking process. This politics of separation is expedient, as law ought to resolve conflicts, to decide. However, by cutting-off argument political choices are constantly being made and back-staged. Glyphosate, however, has become a catalyst for contesting existing dichotomies (e.g. risk assessment/hazard analysis; formulation/pure substance). In so doing, glyphosate brings the politics back to the front-stage of the decisionmaking forum. From this vantage point, glyphosate has triggered a process of re-politicisation of the realm of transnational risk regulation. Glyphosate, as an object of international law, is also bearing witness to the evolution of a hybrid space between science and law, where claims to authority are made in unconventional sites (such as scientific journals) and scientific epistemic communities resort to the language of law (such as consensus) to make their case stronger.

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Erasmus School of Law

Arcuri, A. (2017). Glyphosate. In International Law's Object. Retrieved from