Most of the more than 250 million pounds of glyphosate sprayed on U.S. crops annually is used on genetically engineered (GE) crops,1 like Roundup Ready corn and soybeans that are engineered to withstand the chemical’s otherwise lethal effects. (Glyphosate is the active ingredient in Roundup herbicide.)
Lesser known is the fact that glyphosate is also used by farmers as a desiccant. About two weeks prior to harvest of grain crops like wheat, oats and barley, glyphosate is sprayed onto the crop, which accelerates the drying process, allowing for earlier harvest.
The benefits of using glyphosate are clear for the farmer. It may allow them to complete their harvest before wet weather comes and, by drying out the grain, it may reap them a higher profit, as the greater the moisture content of the grain at sale, the lower the price they get.
The consequences of this shortsighted practice are steep for everyone else, unfortunately. It’s likely that applying this toxic chemical to crops so soon before harvest is one reason why levels of glyphosate have been rising in humans, and a petition has been launched to try and stop the destructive practice.
Consumer Groups Call for End to Preharvest Glyphosate Spraying
The Environmental Working Group (EWG), along with MegaFood, Ben & Jerry’s, Stonyfield Farm, MOM’s Organic Market, Nature’s Path, Happy Family Organics and other consumer groups, has petitioned the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to reduce the amount of glyphosate residues allowed in oats from 30 parts per million (ppm) to 0.1 ppm, as well as prohibit the use of glyphosate as a preharvest desiccant.2
The 0.1 ppm limit for glyphosate on oats was actually the legal limit in 1993 — it has since been raised 300-fold, in response to a petition from Monsanto around the time farmers began to widely use glyphosate as a desiccant late in the season.3
Speaking to Sustainable Pulse, Scott Faber, EWG’s senior vice president for government affairs, said, “No parent should worry whether feeding their children healthy oat-based foods will also expose them to a chemical linked to cancer. Using glyphosate as a desiccant is not necessary, but only a convenience for growers. That’s not worth taking a chance with our children’s health.”4
As it stands, neither the EPA nor the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) monitors for glyphosate levels on most food crops, even as studies suggest Americans’ exposure levels are increasing. I encourage you to sign the petition.
Is Glyphosate Preharvest Spraying Responsible for Rising Glyphosate Levels in Americans?
Researchers from University of California San Diego (UCSD) School of Medicine tested urine levels of glyphosate and its metabolite aminomethylphosphonic acid (AMPA) among 100 people living in Southern California over a period of 23 years — from 1993 to 2016.5
At the start of the study, very few of the participants had detectable levels of glyphosate in their urine but, by 2000, 30 percent of them did, rising to 70 percent by 2016.6 Overall, the prevalence of human exposure to glyphosate increased by 500 percent during the study period while actual levels of the chemical, in ug/ml, increased by a shocking 1,208 percent.7
In an analysis for Environmental Health News, Richard Jackson, professor at the Fielding School of Public Health at UCLA, and Charles Benbrook, a visiting scholar in the Bloomberg School of Public Health, Johns Hopkins University, asked the question of why levels are increasing so dramatically.
The planting of Roundup Ready crops can’t explain the rise on their own, as they were already being widely used by 2004 to 2005, with only modest increases in glyphosate use since 2005. “The likely answer lies elsewhere,” they stated, with preharvest spraying of glyphosate:8
“Around 2002, farmers in the U.S. started adopting preharvest, desiccation uses of Roundup … Such ‘harvest aid’ uses of glyphosate entail spraying fields about two weeks prior to harvest … But spraying a mature grain or bean crop so close to harvest with a glyphosate-based herbicide results in much higher residues than traditional, spring or early summer applications.
Beginning around 2004 and over about the next decade, incrementally more acres were sprayed to speed up harvest in the U.S. It is nearly certain that residues from these applications were largely responsible for doubling the levels of glyphosate and its metabolite found in the urine of Rancho Bernado residents.”
Olga Naidenko, EWG’s senior science adviser for children’s health, told CNN, “We know it is possible to grow oats and other grains without herbicides. Companies do not need to wait for EPA; they can simply talk to their suppliers and say, ‘please grow our oats without glyphosate, because our customers are complaining.'”
EWG toxicologist Alexis Temkin added, “This type of use of glyphosate is a very small percentage of the overall use, yet it can have the greatest impact on human health, so we think this is the place to target reducing the use of glyphosate.”9
How Much Glyphosate Is in Your Favorite Foods?
The Environmental Working Group (EWG) commissioned independent laboratory tests to determine how much glyphosate is lurking in the U.S. food supply. While the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has been testing foods for glyphosate, and tests reportedly revealed “a fair amount” of residues, their findings have not yet been made public.10
EWG’s testing revealed, however, that 43 out of 45 food products made with conventionally grown oats tested positive for glyphosate, 31 of which had glyphosate levels higher than EWG scientists believe would be protective of children’s health.
Examples of foods with detectable levels of glyphosate include Quaker Dinosaur Eggs instant oatmeal, Cheerios cereal, Nature Valley granola bars, Quaker steel cut oats and Back to Nature Classic Granola. Further, out of 16 organic oat foods tested, five contained glyphosate, although at levels below EWG’s health benchmark of 160 parts per billion (ppb).
In 2016, tests conducted by the nonprofit organizations Food Democracy Now! and The Detox Project also found glyphosate residues in a variety of foods including Doritos, Oreos and Stacy’s Pita Chips.11
Glyphosate has even been detected in PediaSure Enteral Formula nutritional drink, which is given to infants and children via feeding tubes. Thirty percent of the samples tested contained levels of glyphosate over 75 ppb — far higher levels than have been found to destroy gut bacteria in chickens (0.1 ppb).12 Where else might you find glyphosate in your favorite foods?
As the most widely used pesticide in the world,13 you can guess that it’s showing up virtually everywhere. Advocacy group Moms Across America sent 10 wine samples to be tested for glyphosate, and all of them tested positive — even organic wines, although their levels were significantly lower.14 A study of glyphosate residues by the Munich Environmental Institute even found glyphosate in 14 best-selling German beers.15
Glyphosate Deemed a Probable Carcinogen
The prevalence of glyphosate in the food supply is alarming because of the many health risks it’s been linked to. Food companies like Quaker have stated that any levels of glyphosate that remain in food products are significantly below any limits set by the EPA,16 but this doesn’t necessarily make them safe.
“Small doses over large populations do have effects — we have learned this from radiation exposures, lead and other environmental pollutants, including pesticides,” Jackson and Benbrook said.17 Daily exposure to ultralow levels of glyphosate for two years led to nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) in rats,18 for instance.
In March 2015, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), which is the research arm of the World Health Organization (WHO), also determined glyphosate to be a “probable carcinogen” (Class 2A). This determination was based on evidence showing it can cause Non-Hodgkin lymphoma and lung cancer in humans, along with “convincing evidence” it can also cause cancer in animals.
California’s Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) also announced in 2015 that they intended to list glyphosate as a chemical known to cause cancer under Proposition 65, which requires consumer products with potential cancer-causing ingredients to bear warning labels.
In contrast, the EPA has stated glyphosate is probably not carcinogenic to humans, but internal documents have revealed the agency has colluded with Monsanto to protect the company’s interests.
Children May Be Most at Risk From Glyphosate Residues in Oats
A primary reason why the EWG petition is calling for glyphosate levels in oats to be limited to 0.1 ppm as they were in 1993 is because children consume a sizable number of oat products in the U.S. (cereal, cookies, breakfast bars, oatmeal and more).
Not only do EWG’s studies suggest that glyphosate levels may be higher in oat products than they are in even wheat and corn, but “real dietary exposure” is not limited to oat products. Children and adults are being exposed to glyphosate from a variety of sources, with potentially devastating effects.
In August 2018, jurors ruled Monsanto (which was taken over by Bayer in June 2018) must pay $289 million in damages to DeWayne “Lee” Johnson, a former school groundskeeper who claimed the company’s herbicide Roundup caused his terminal cancer.
The jury agreed, awarding Johnson not only in the form of monetary justice but also collaborating claims that Monsanto knew for decades that Roundup was dangerous — and acted with “malice or oppression” to cover up its risks.19 The EPA, likewise, has appeared to incorrectly dismiss concerns relating to glyphosate toxicity. In their petition, EWG noted:
“EWG contends that the EPA Office of Pesticide Programs incorrectly dismissed many study findings that showed statistically significant dose-response trends for glyphosate carcinogenicity. EPA’s dismissal of those studies has enabled the continued approval of increasingly high tolerance levels of glyphosate as a residue on common foods.”
Monsanto Hid Involvement in Ghostwriting Journal Studies
During the Johnson trial, court-ordered unsealed documents revealed that Monsanto scientists ghostwrote studies to clear glyphosate’s name and even hired a scientist to persuade the EPA to change its cancer classification decision on the chemical.20 Critical Reviews in Toxicology will also issue an “Expression of Concern” on a Roundup safety study because Monsanto didn’t disclose its involvement in the research.21
The study was a supplement to the journal, titled, “An Independent Review of the Carcinogenic Potential of Glyphosate.” It claimed the articles had not been reviewed by Monsanto employees or attorneys, but internal emails revealed “Monsanto scientists were heavily involved in organizing, reviewing and editing article drafts,” Bloomberg reported.22
Unfortunately, the journal intends to leave the paper’s title alone, even though, as Nathan Donley, a senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity, told Bloomberg, “There is nothing independent about this review by any stretch of the imagination.”23
Dicamba Is Killing More Trees
Dicamba is another herbicide of concern, use of which has been increasing due to the release of Monsanto’s Roundup Ready Xtend cotton and soybeans — GE plants designed to tolerate both glyphosate and dicamba. Dicamba is notorious for drifting, and even the newer formulation, which was supposed to have low volatility, is continuing to drift.
When it hits neighboring crops or trees that aren’t dicamba-resistant, the results are often devastating. Previously, at least four states — Iowa, Illinois, Arkansas and Tennessee — have received complaints that dicamba may be damaging oak trees and other species, particularly sycamore, cypress and Bradford pear.24,25
In Tennessee, thousands of cypress trees near Reelfoot Lake, some more than 200 years old, have needles that are curling and turning brown as a result of dicamba drift. The EPA placed some restrictions on dicamba usage in 2017, but reports of damage have continued in 2018 — and state officials aren’t doing much to stop it. According to NPR:26
“There are billions of dollars at stake. Monsanto is arguing that the government can’t take this tool away from farmers. If used properly, the company says, dicamba doesn’t hurt anything but weeds …
Back at Reelfoot Lake, [Mike] Hayes [who owns a resort on the lake] says his prematurely brown cypress trees are evidence that this isn’t true. He thinks state politicians are ignoring the problem — in part because they’re scared of Monsanto.”
Monsanto, meanwhile, has continued to downplay the damage reports, sometimes blaming them on farmers’ use of the chemicals at wind speeds higher than outlined on the label, changes in wind speed or direction, or on other factors entirely.
They have no plans to scale back usage of the environmentally devastating chemical, instead boasting that they intend to sell even more GE Xtend crops (and the dicamba to go along with them) in 2019.”27
How Much Glyphosate Is in Your Body — and Your Drinking Water?
If you’d like to know your personal glyphosate levels, you can now find out, while also participating in a worldwide study on environmental glyphosate exposures. The Health Research Institute (HRI) in Iowa developed the glyphosate urine test kit, which will allow you to determine your own exposure to this toxic herbicide.
Ordering this kit automatically allows you to participate in the study and help HRI better understand the extent of glyphosate exposure and contamination. In a few weeks, you will receive your results, along with information on how your results compare with others and what to do to help reduce your exposure. We are providing these kits to you at no profit in order for you to participate in this environmental study.
In the case of glyphosate, it’s also wise to avoid desiccated crops like wheat and oats. If you want to know how much glyphosate may be in your drinking water, HRI has also developed a glyphosate water test kit that will allow you to determine glyphosate levels in your water source.
If you’re concerned about glyphosate residues in your food, you can help to prompt change by reaching out to the companies that make your food. Let them know that you prefer foods without glyphosate residues — and are prepared to switch brands if necessary to find them.
In addition to voicing your opinion to food companies, contact the EPA and encourage them to restrict preharvest applications of glyphosate in order to reduce the amount of this toxic chemical entering the food supply.