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Glyphosate on the plate

March 2020

Food-related uses of glyphosate-based herbicides in a nutshell:

The vast majority of commercial GM food crops - including maize, soya, canola, sugar-beet and cotton (consumed as cotton-seed oil) - are glyphosate tolerant and therefore sprayed with glyphosate-based herbicides. Applications of the herbicide on these crops have been stepped up year-on-year due to evolving weed resistance.

Besides GM crops, glyphosate-based herbicides are used as a pre-harvest desiccant on wheat, barley, oats (and other grains), sugar cane, lentils, beans, peas, chickpeas, sunflower, mints, potatoes and cantaloupe.

Despite the massively increasing use of glyphosate-based herbicides throughout the last 30 years, and despite over 1,500 published studies in the most recent decade, current safety assessments still rely heavily on studies conducted before the escalation started, and mostly unpublished .

Against this background, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was happy to agree to requests by Monsanto (now Bayer) to increase the allowed glyphosate residues in oats to levels which enable the herbicide to be used as a desiccant just prior to harvesting (when the herbicide contamination in the final product would be particularly high).

Although the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) surveys pesticide residues annually in fruit, vegetables and other commonly consumed foods, it has resisted adding glyphosate to its list.  A fragmented patchwork of analyses across America are, however, revealing alarming results:

  • One of the few epidemiological studies which tested urine glyphosate levels in a Californian community from 1993 to 2016 showed clearly that "prior to the introduction of genetically modified foods, very few people had detectable levels of glyphosate.  As of 2016, 70 percent of the study cohort had detectable levels".
  • A study of popular processed foods carried out in 2015-2016, found glyphosate at "alarming" levels which "present significant risks" in Cheerios, Honey Nut Cheerios, Kellogg's Corn Flakes, Raisin Bran, Frosted Flakes, Ritz Crackers and many more well-known brand names, all firm favourites with children.
  • A study of take-away and restaurant foods in 2019 found glyphosate in 39 out of 44 menu items.  The outlets surveyed included names familiar in the UK: Pret-A-Manger, Pizza Hut, Domino's, Subway, Dunkin Donuts, MacDonalds (buns and teas were positive, burgers were negative), Taco Bell.
  • Claims of  100% 'clean' food, 'free from obscure chemicals', 'superior quality', or 'best ingredients' didn't indicate the absence of glyphosate, or even low levels, .
  • A Food and Drug Administration (FDA) check on honey in 2017 found detectable glyphosate in all samples, with measurable levels in 61%. Two years later, Canadian scientists found glyphosate residues in 98.5% of honey samples, while in Hawaii researchers found glyphosate in 27% of honey taken directly from the hive.
  • In 2019, routine monitoring of green coffee beans by Nestlé found glyphosate (and other chemicals) at levels close to the maximum levels allowed by regulators.  Additional testing requirements have had to be implemented for beans shipped to factories in Europe, Australia and Malaysia where legal limits on glyphosate are stricter than most other countries.
  • On-going is a growing list of lawsuits brought by NGOs against food companies which deceive the consumer by labelling their products 'pure' or '100% natural' when, in fact, they contain chemical residues such as glyphosate
Realising the danger to children from the whole out-of-control glyphosate situation, Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (senior Democrat on the Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee, which has jurisdiction over funding and oversight of the USDA) introduced the 'Keep Food Safe from Glyphosate Act' in March 2019 "to ensure corporations are not profiting at the expense of America's health".  Amongst other things, the Act would prohibit the spraying of glyphosate as a pre-harvest drying agent on oats, and require regular glyphosate-testing by the USDA of fruits, vegetables and other foods routinely fed to infants and children.

To become law, the bill would have to pass successfully through the layers of government and finally be signed by the President.  It was given a 3% chance of being enacted, and nearly a year after its introduction, doesn't seem to be going anywhere.

OUR COMMENT


The stumbling block preventing a common-sense ban on glyphosate use in foods favoured by children is GM crops with their overwhelming dependence on the herbicide: you can't ban the chemical in one food and justify its existence in another.  Remove the GM Roundup Ready blockbuster from the scene, and the biotech industry would have nothing to plug the huge products and profits gap.

If we're not careful, America will force through the trade deal it craves with the UK, and Brexit will deliver a glyphosate-filled future.

The one light at the end of this tunnel is that food companies can't afford bad press and are very sensitive to their customers' demands.  A growing body of consumers (such as you) requesting glyphosate-free guarantees would focus their attention nicely.

Also, you can choose organic.

SOURCES:
  • New US Bill Aims to Limit Children's Exposure to Glyphosate Herbicides, Sustainable Pulse, 17.03.19
  • Laura N. Vandenberg, et al., March 2017, Is it time to reassess current safety standards for glyphosate-based herbicides? Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health
  • Nestle Steps Up Testing After Weedkiller Found in Coffee Beans, Sustainable Pulse, 27.09.19
  • US NGOs Target Twinings and Beech-Nut over Glyphosate and Pesticide Contamination of 'Natural' Products, Sustainable Pulse, 22.07.19
  • Cary Gillam, Weed killer residues found in 98 percent of Canadian Honey samples, Environmental Health News, 22.03.19
  • Eating Out: a Date With Glyphosate, GMO Free USA, March 2019
  • Yadira Galindo, Exposure to Glyphosate, Chemical Found in Weed Killers, Increased Over 23 Year, University of California San Diego, 24.10.17
  • Alarming Levels of Glyphosate Contamination Found in Popular American Foods, Sustainable Pulse, 14.11.16
  • DeLauro Introduces Keep Food Safe from Glyphosate Act, https://delauro.house.gov/media-center, 15.03.19; htps://www.govtrack.us.congress/bills/116/hr1783
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