Studies continue to link the well-known herbicide glyphosate to human, animal and environmental health problems. Yet American's are unknowingly eating and drinking more glyphosates than ever.
So, what is this weed-killing chemical, why is it so prevalent, and what makes it so potentially dangerous in our food supply?
What is Glyphosate?
Glyphosate is a broad-spectrum herbicide commonly known as 'Roundup." It was introduced by the agricultural chemical company Monsanto in 1974. The active component is phosphate, which works as a desiccant to kill plants. Once sprayed, actively-growing plants absorb the chemical through their foliage. This disrupts the plant's ability to synthesize amino acids and results in killing it.
It is known as a "knock-down" herbicide and is especially effective against broadleaf weeds and grasses. Within a few days of application, sometimes just hours, plants will wither up, yellow and die. It is commonly used by homeowners for lawn and landscape care and has been widely adopted by farmers using conventional-growing methods.
Americans have applied more than 1.8 million tons of glyphosate since 1974 and it is the most widely-used pesticide/herbicide worldwide.
The Problem with Glyphosate
Studies have linked glyphosate with many human and environmental health problems. Yet despite years of research and studies, the EPA still maintains that glyphosate is "not likely" to cause cancer. Established tolerances in the U.S. for glyphosate levels are much higher than what is allowed in most other countries, including the European Union.
It is linked with an increased risk of cancer in numerous studies. In 2015 the World Health Organization classified it as "possibly carcinogenic to humans."
Glyphosate is also a known endocrine disruptor, and research has linked it to liver disease, birth defectives, reproductive problems and damaging DNA in human embryos.
In July 2019, the International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics called for the phased "removal of glyphosate from global use" over an "expanding body of evidence (that) has implicated the role of environmental exposures on health."
In April of 2019, a new draft toxicological profile was issued by the U.S. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, reporting increased cancer risk from glyphosate exposures.
A 2018 study indicated that exposure to glyphosate - even at doses considered to be safe - could negatively affect the gut microbiome in early childhood development before puberty.
Glyphosate is a problem for far more than just humans. Studies have shown it has a harmful impact on bees, butterflies and is highly toxic to amphibians like frogs in our watershed systems.
A 2018 study showed that despite long-held opinion’s suggesting otherwise, significant amounts of glyphosate does runoff fields into downstream watersheds. It then affects non-targeted plant species downstream via root uptake. This is particularly problematic for agricultural ditch systems, which host a diversity of plants and species acting as the first line of defense for filtering out sediment and other agro-chemical pollutants from venturing further downstream.
How Does Glyphosate Get Into our Food System?
Glyphosate gets into our food supply chain primarily in three ways – via Roundup Ready crops, crop desiccation and accidental drift. In the mid-1990s, Monsanto introduced a new variety of 'Roundup Ready soybeans' to the agricultural marketplace. These soybeans were genetically-modified to be resistant to glyphosate. A farmer could drench their soybean fields and kill the unwanted weeds, but not the soybeans plants themselves.
Within a few years, additional "Roundup Ready" crops — corn, cotton, canola and sugar beets — were introduced. This allowed Monsanto to capture two streams of revenue, selling both the patented 'Roundup Ready' seeds and the chemical needed to spray them.
Despite claiming at the time that Roundup Ready crops would result in less glyphosate applied, global usage rates have risen almost 15 times since Roundup Ready crops were introduced. But far more crops are exposed to glyphosate than just GMO crops. Convinced by Monsanto that after spraying the chemical was harmless and disappeared from the environment, conventional farmers started using glyphosate to do what it does best — kill plants. But this time they used it to kill their cash crop.
Certain crops, especially grain, must first die and cure to be harvested. On wet, cool years, a farmer's crop may not uniformly dry down in time for harvest risking the crop. So, to speed up the 'dying' part, farmers started spraying their crops with glyphosate. This process is now commonly used in northern grain-growing regions.
Desiccation is often used on wheat and oat fields. But it is also used in lentils, peas, flax, rye, buckwheat, triticale, millet, potatoes and non-GMO corn, soybeans, canola and sugar beets. Because these crops are already close to harvest when sprayed, the levels of chemicals passed directly through to the end food product have the potential to be concentrated in even higher levels.
Even crops that weren’t purposefully sprayed with glyphosate are still sometimes exposed to it due to issues with spray drift. Many crops are sprayed via aerial applications. Even with laws regulating allowable wind speeds during spray times, drift is still a common occurrence and hard to manage. Because the drift is less concentrated, oftentimes the crop may suffer in yield, but not entirely die and still make it to market having been exposed to the chemical, even if not on purpose.
High Levels of Glyphosate Found in Our Food Supply
Not surprisingly, considering how much and how routinely glyphosate is used, research has shown prevalent amounts of the chemical have made it into some of our most commonly consumed foods.
In 2016, after years of refusing to test, the FDA found glyphosate in foods, including oatmeal marketed to babies and children. In 2018, they reported 67 percent of soybean samples and 63.1 percent of corn samples tested positive for glyphosate residue.
Meanwhile, privately-funded studies have shown high levels in many other foods as well, including pasta, crackers and cereals.
Avoiding Glyphosate in Your Family's Food Choices!
The best way to avoid eating glyphosate is, of course, don't eat crops that have been sprayed with it at some point during the growing cycle!
Labels, however, can be confusing. For instance, a non-GMO crop (like oats) may still be sprayed with glyphosate if it was used as a crop desiccant as the oats reached maturity.
Other than growing your food yourself, or purchasing directly from a farmer you trust, the best way to avoid glyphosate in your diet is by purchasing foods certified as Organic, Biodynamic or the soon-to-be-released Regenerative Organic. These are all trusted and verified certification services.
At Whiteleaf Provisions, we know nothing is as important as the health of your baby. That’s why we go the extra mile to make sure our products are glyphosate free.
Not only are our ingredients certified Organic Biodynamic, assuring they are grown without glyphosate application to start with, but our products are the only U.S. shelf-stable baby food to be tested “glyphosate residue free” by the Detox Project. To be certified, a product must test as having no glyphosate residues down to government-recognized limits of detection.
If you would like to read more about the dangers of glyphosate, we highly recommend the Glyphosate Fact Sheet: Cancer and Other Health Concerns put out by the U.S. Right to Know, a non-profit investigative research group.