This week the FDA announced it will start testing certain foods for residues of the world’s most widely used weed killer, glyphosate.1 It appears the FDA is finally bowing to pressure from the public regarding safety concerns. Private groups, citing suspected risks to human health, have gone ahead and done their own testing in recent years and claim they have found glyphosate residues in breast milk, honey, infant formula, wheat flour, soy sauce, and a host of other foods.
But what is glyphosate exactly? According the National Pesticide Information Center, Glyphosate (also called Round-Up) is an herbicide that kills most plants by preventing specific enzyme pathways that are necessary for growth.2 Monsanto, who owns glyphosate, has also made genetically modified plants (coined “Round-Up Ready) that are resistant to the herbicide, thereby allowing the crops to grow while the weeds and pests die.
While this seems like a miracle formulation, the concern is on the safety of using this product on plants that are meant for human consumption. Countries around the world have been asking this questions while our own government seems to have been rather silent on the issue.
In fact, many countries have already banned glyphosate use or are in the process of evaluating the evidence in consideration of doing so. Some of these countries include Germany, Brazil, Mexico, Argentina, Norway, The Netherlands, Sri Lanka, Bermuda and Russia. They cite evidence linking glyphosate use to various detrimental health effects.3 In 2015 the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer classified glyphosate as “probably carcinogenic in humans” based on a review of the research.4
Given the worldwide concerns, it is interesting that the FDA has not tested for glyphosate before. They routinely test foods for a vast array of pesticides to carefully monitor the safety of our food supply. Glyphosate testing has always been skipped, claiming it is “too expensive and not needed to protect public health.”5 It is unclear how they came to that conclusion concerning our collective health, but it seems they are finally changing their tune.
The concern, however, is whether the FDA will do a fair and thorough job of testing these foods. Given its reluctance to test glyphosate in the first place coupled with probable heavy pressure from Monsanto lobbyists, one naturally wonders whether the findings will show anything of concern. It seems for now all we can do is wait and see.
In the meantime, while we wait for more solid science on the subject, you can take steps to limit glyphosate exposure in your diet. The most contaminated foods are wheat, soy, corn, and beets. Groups have claimed that residues can also be found in conventionally grown crops such as lettuce, carrots, whole grains and even honey whose soils have been sprayed with glyphosate, even a year or more after the original application. Therefore it would be ideal to buy all of your produce organic, especially of those foods mentioned, whenever possible. Keep in mind that many other conventional (non-organic) foods are unintentionally contaminated as well. There is no easy way, it seems, to avoid glyphosate 100%, but with knowledge and saavy shopping you can do your best to protect your health.