Earlier this year, researchers from University of California San Diego School of Medicine reported there’s been a dramatic increase in glyphosate exposure in recent decades and, subsequently, the level found in people’s bodies.1 As one would expect, the introduction of so-called “Roundup Ready” genetically engineered (GE) crops led to a massive increase in the use of Roundup, the active ingredient of which is glyphosate.
Glyphosate has also become a popular tool for desiccating non-GE grains, legumes and beans, which has further spurred the use of the chemical. Between 1974 — the year glyphosate entered the U.S. market — and 2014, glyphosate use in the U.S. increased more than 250fold.2,3 Globally, glyphosate use has risen nearly fifteenfold since 1996, two years after the first GE crops hit the market.
Farmers now apply nearly 5 billion pounds (over 2 billion kilograms) of glyphosate to farm crops each year, worldwide.4 Approximately 300 million pounds are applied on U.S. farmland. According to the researchers, few people had detectable levels of glyphosate in their urine in 1993 when the study began.5 By 2016, 70 percent had detectable levels.6 Overall, between 1993 and 2016, the glyphosate levels in people’s bodies increased by 1,208 percent.
Food Testing Reveals Widespread Glyphosate Contamination
While Monsanto still argues that Roundup (and glyphosate in general) is perfectly safe, mounting research tells a very different story, which is why it’s becoming increasingly crucial to assess just how much glyphosate is in our food. Unfortunately, while both the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Pesticide Data Program and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) measure pesticide residues in foods, neither of them includes glyphosate in their official testing.
The USDA promised to begin glyphosate testing in 2017, yet mere days before the testing was scheduled to begin, the plan was called off. The reason has never been disclosed. The only time the USDA tested for glyphosate was in 2011, when 300 soybean samples were tested and all were found to be contaminated.
Meanwhile, the FDA began a limited testing program for glyphosate in 2016, in which high levels of glyphosate was found in oatmeal products and honey, but the agency did not release the results publicly. Now, internal FDA emails obtained by investigative journalist Carey Gillam7 through Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests reveal Roundup has been found in virtually all foods tested, including granola and crackers. Gillam writes:
“[T]he internal documents obtained by the Guardian show the FDA has had trouble finding any food that does not carry traces of the pesticide. ‘I have brought wheat crackers, granola cereal and corn meal from home and there’s a fair amount in all of them,’ FDA chemist Richard Thompson wrote to colleagues in an email last year regarding glyphosate … broccoli was the only food he had ‘on hand’ that he found to be glyphosate-free …
Separately, FDA chemist Narong Chamkasem found ‘over-the-tolerance’ levels of glyphosate in corn, detected at 6.5 parts per million [ppm], an FDA email states. The legal limit is 5.0 ppm. An illegal level would normally be reported to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), but an FDA supervisor wrote to an EPA official that the corn was not considered an ‘official sample.’”
Independent Testing Also Highlights Massive Glyphosate Problem
The Health Research Institute Labs (HRI Labs) is an independent laboratory that tests both micronutrients and toxins found in food, and is often hired to test foods claiming to be non-GMO, “all natural” and/or organic. One of the toxins HRI Labs is currently focusing on is glyphosate, and the public testing being offered (see below) allows them to compile data on the pervasiveness of this chemical in the food supply.
HRI was recently tasked with testing Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, which was also found to contain glyphosate. The samples were provided by the Organic Consumers Association (OCA) and Regeneration Vermont, which are concerned about the environmental impact Ben & Jerry’s dairy producers are having in Vermont. Using sensitive state-of-the-art testing equipment to look at the quality of the ingredients, 10 of the 11 ice cream samples were found to contain substantial levels of glyphosate.
HRI Labs has investigated a number of other foods as well, including grains, legumes and beans. Most if not all of these types of crops need to dry in the field before being harvested, and to speed that process, the fields are doused with glyphosate a couple of weeks before harvest. As a result of this practice, called desiccation, grain-based products, legumes and beans contain rather substantial amounts of glyphosate. Quaker Oats, for example, was found to contain very high levels.
Orange juice also contains surprising amounts of glyphosate. As it turns out, weeds in orange groves are managed by spraying glyphosate, which ends up in the oranges as the roots of the orange trees pick it up through the soil. A similar situation is occurring in vineyards, which is why many wines are contaminated.
HRI Labs has also analyzed more than 1,200 urine samples from U.S. residents. This testing is being done as part of a research project that will provide valuable information about the presence of glyphosate in the diet and how lifestyle and location affects people’s exposure to agrochemicals. Here are some of their findings to date:
76 percent of people tested have some level of glyphosate in their system
Men typically have higher levels than women
People who eat oats on a regular basis have twice as much glyphosate in their system as people who don't (likely because oats are desiccated with glyphosate before harvest)
People who eat organic food on a regular basis have an 80 percent lower level of glyphosate than those who rarely eat organic. This indicates organic products are a safer choice
People who eat five or more servings of vegetables per day have glyphosate levels that are 50 percent lower than those who eat fewer vegetables