Are all foods contaminated by the herbicide glyphosate? The weed-killer glyphosate, which is in Roundup, keeps turning up in foods - basically in every food studied. Glyphosate is the most widely used herbicide in the world, and its use keeps increasing - which means we are increasingly exposed to more glyphosate residues in foods. What does this mean for our health? Along with other health effects (e.g. endocrine disruption, reproductive effects, alters the gut microbiome), there is increasing evidence that glyphosate herbicides are carcinogenic (cancer causing) - especially linked to non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
Studies detect glyphosate in most adults in the US, including pregnant women. Since glyphosate herbicides are so widely and heavily used by farmers (greater than 88.6 pounds per square mile in the US midwest!!, according to the USGS), then it is difficult to avoid glyphosate residue in foods. The US government is not helping the situation - they have been refusing to test for glyphosate in foods for years, and they have twice raised the allowable glyphosate residue levels in foods when asked to do so by Monsanto (the manufacturer of Roundup). The only way to avoid glyphosate is to eat organic foods - it is not allowed in organic food production.
A recent Canadian government study looked at whether glyphosate was found in 200 honey samples from western Canada. Glyphosate was detected in 197 of the 200 samples! Even though beekeepers do not use glyphosate in beekeeping, the bees were picking it up in their search for nectar and bringing it back to the hives. Which means whenever one eats the honey, that person is also getting some glyphosate residues. A little here, a little there... we're getting some everywhere...
Excerpts from an article by journalist Carey Gillam for Environmental Health News:
Study is the latest evidence that glyphosate herbicides are so pervasive that residues can be found in foods not produced by farmers using glyphosate. As U.S. regulators continue to dance around the issue of testing foods for residues of glyphosate weed killers, government scientists in Canada have found the pesticide in 197 of 200 samples of honey they examined.
The authors of the study, all of whom work for Agri-Food Laboratories at the Alberta Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, said the prevalence of glyphosate residues in honey samples - 98.5 percent - was higher than what was reported in several similar studies done over the last five years in other countries.
Glyphosate is the world's most widely used herbicide and is the active ingredient in Roundup brands as well as hundreds of others sold around the world for agriculture and other purposes. Use has grown dramatically over the last 25 years and consumers have become concerned about residues of the herbicide in their food.
The data provides fresh evidence that glyphosate herbicides are so pervasive in the environment that residues can be found even in a food that is not produced by farmers using glyphosate. The researchers noted in their report that they ran into delays trying to calibrate their testing equipment "due to difficulties encountered in obtaining a honey sample which did not contain traces of glyphosate."
The Canadian report also comes amid growing evidence that glyphosate herbicides can cause cancer, specifically non-Hodgkin's lymphoma ... multiple studies showing the cancer-causing potential of glyphosate herbicides, including one published last month in a journal whose editor is a senior scientist at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
The Canadians' decision to examine honey samples for glyphosate comes after a similar look at honey samples by a U.S. Food and Drug Administration chemist in 2017. That FDA scientist found all 28 honey samples he looked at had traces of glyphosate, with 61 percent of the samples having enough glyphosate to be measured. The other samples had residues of the herbicide too slight to measure.
The Canadian report, published in a journal called Food Additives & Contaminants: Part A, said that glyphosate is currently an active ingredient in 181 herbicides registered for use in Canada and its widespread use has made it commonly found in the environment.
The study authors pointed out that Canada, like the United States, does not have a legal standard for how much of the herbicide is considered safe in honey. Regulators in different countries set what are referred to as "maximum residue limits" (MRLs) and tell consumers their food is safe if pesticide residues remain below the MRLs. In Europe, the MRL for glyphosate in honey is 0.05 mg/kg, also expressed as 50 μg/kg.
The Canadian study authors said that all of the levels they found were below the European limit, though the highest was just barely within the legal limit. Because the residues did not exceed the MRL, they said, "the risk to consumer health appears to be quite low based on the residues detected."
Several of the residue levels found by the FDA scientist in U.S. honey were above that so-called safe level that applies in the European Union. But the FDA, like the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and EPA, assert that as long as pesticide residues are below the legal MRLs, they are not harmful. Many scientists do not agree that MRLs actually are protective of public health, however.
"People think the standards are protective of public health but they are not," Dr. Philip Landrigan, director of the Global Public Health Program at Boston College, told EHN. "The optimal amount" of pesticide residues in food is "zero," he said. "Remember, many of the people eating honey are children."
A team of Harvard scientists published a commentary in October stating that more research about potential links between disease and consumption of pesticide residues is "urgently needed" as more than 90 percent of the U.S. population has pesticide residues in their urine and blood.
The United States has fallen behind Europe, Canada and other countries in testing foods for residues of glyphosate. Though both the FDA and the USDA annually test thousands of food samples for pesticide residues and report the data in reports, both agencies have not included glyphosate in their yearly testing programs.
In fact, the honey test data gathered by the FDA chemist was never published by the FDA and was not included in the agency's first-ever glyphosate testing data that was released late last year as part of the annual test data report.
The USDA has similarly balked at testing foods for glyphosate residues for decades. The agency planned to start limited testing in 2017 but dropped the plan with little explanation only a couple of months before testing was to have started.
Amid all the concerns about glyphosate and residues in food, U.S. Rep Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut this month introduced a measure called the "Keep Food Safe From Glyphosate Act." The bill would require the USDA to routinely test food samples for glyphosate residues. The bill would also ban the spraying of glyphosate as a desiccant on oats. The practice is employed by some farmers to dry their oats before harvesting. It makes harvest more efficient but leaves higher residues on finished oat-based foods.
Monsanto, now a unit of Bayer AG, has marketed glyphosate for use on oats as a desiccant for years, and the company also has successfully convinced the EPA to raise the MRL for glyphosate residues allowed in oat products. In 1993, for example, the EPA had a tolerance for glyphosate in oats at 0.1 parts per million (ppm) but in 1996 Monsanto asked EPA to raise the tolerance to 20 ppm and the EPA did as asked. In 2008, at Monsanto's suggestion, the EPA again looked to raise the tolerance for glyphosate in oats, this time to 30 ppm.
In addition to testing for glyphosate residues, the Canadian scientists also tested for residues of glyphosate's main degradation product, a metabolite called aminomethylphosphonic acid (AMPA). Like glyphosate, AMPA has long been considered to have low toxicity. AMPA was detected in 198 of the 200 samples up to a concentration of 50.1 μg/kg.