Concerns over the health effects of glyphosate — the active ingredient in Roundup and other weed killer formulations — continue to rise as evidence of harm and widespread exposure keeps accumulating.
In recent years, researchers have discovered it may affect your body’s ability to produce fully functioning proteins, inhibit the shikimate pathway (found in gut bacteria) and interfere with the function of cytochrome P450 enzymes (required for activation of vitamin D and the creation of nitric oxide and cholesterol sulfate).
Glyphosate also chelates important minerals; disrupts sulfate synthesis and transport; interferes with the synthesis of aromatic amino acids and methionine, resulting in folate and neurotransmitter shortages; disrupts your microbiome by acting as an antibiotic; impairs methylation pathways; and inhibits pituitary release of thyroid stimulating hormone, which can lead to hypothyroidism.1,2
Roundup has also been linked to certain cancers.3 In March 2015, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classified glyphosate as a “probable carcinogen” (Class 2A),4 based on “limited evidence” showing the weed killer can cause Non-Hodgkin lymphoma and lung cancer in humans.
Since then, thousands of individuals have filed suit against Monsanto, blaming Roundup for their Non-Hodgkin lymphoma.5 The first case to go to jury trial resulted in a stunning guilty verdict, and Monsanto was ordered to pay the plaintiff, Dewayne Johnson, $289 million in damages.6
According to the ruling, Monsanto “acted with malice or oppression” and was responsible for “negligent failure” by not warning consumers about the carcinogenicity of its product. A judge recently upheld the guilty verdict, but reduced the damages to $78 million.7,8,9 Bayer, which now owns Monsanto, is also facing several class action lawsuits over crop damage caused by dicamba.10
Another Round of Food Testing Raises Concerns About Glyphosate in Food Supply
A second round of food testing11,12 by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) now reveals glyphosate is a staple contaminant in Cheerios breakfast cereals and Quaker Oats products. All 28 samples contained glyphosate; 26 at levels suspected to be harmful to children’s health.
In the first round of testing,13 published in August 2018, 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 safe for children. This included Quaker Dinosaur Eggs instant oatmeal, Cheerios cereal, Nature Valley granola bars, Quaker steel cut oats and Back to Nature Classic Granola.
Five of 16 organic oat foods also contained glyphosate, although at levels below EWG’s health benchmark of 160 parts per billion (ppb). (For comparison, the legal limit set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for glyphosate in oats is 30,000 ppb.)
However, while the EWG’s proposed safety level is nearly 188 times more stringent than that of the EPA, Alex Lu, an associate professor of environmental exposure biology at Harvard, who has researched pesticides in children’s diets, believes EWG’s threshold is conservative and may still be too high. “This is especially true for parents buying breakfast cereals for their infants and children,” he told Business Insider.14
In this latest round of testing, EWG focused exclusively on Cheerios and Quaker Oats products. Of the 28 products sampled this time around, Quaker Oatmeal Squares (brown sugar and honey nut flavors) fared the worst, containing nearly 18 times more glyphosate than the EWG’s safety threshold (2,746 ppb and 2,837 ppb respectively).
In third and fourth place came Cheerios Oat Crunch (cinnamon flavor) and Quaker Overnight Oats, with 1,171 ppb and 1,029 ppb of glyphosate respectively. You can find a complete list of test results on EWG’s website.15 As noted by EWG:
“This round of tests confirms and amplifies EWG’s findings from the first round, with levels of glyphosate consistently above our children’s health benchmark in every sample but two.”
There’s No Safe Limit for Pesticides for Children
As you’d expect, General Mills (which makes Cheerios) and Quaker (owned by PepsiCo.) insist their products are safe since they comply with EPA standards, and that the glyphosate levels are too minute to pose any health risks anyway.
In a statement to CNN, a General Mills spokesperson said, “The extremely low levels of pesticide residue cited in recent news reports is a tiny fraction of the amount the government allows.”16 However, there are a number of problems with this stance.
First of all, just because it’s within legal limits doesn’t mean it’s safe. There’s evidence suggesting the EPA has colluded with Monsanto to downplay glyphosate’s harmful effects, and since glyphosate has for decades been wrongly believed to be harmless, there’s reason to suspect EPA limits — which were set in 2008, well before most of the incriminating evidence against glyphosate came out — may be too high. As noted by EWG:17
“EWG does not believe chemicals linked to cancer belong in children’s food. Our recommended maximum daily intake of glyphosate in food is 0.01 milligrams. For a 60-gram portion of food, this daily intake limit translates to a safety standard of 160 ppb of glyphosate. This health benchmark is based on the risks of lifetime exposure, because small, repeated exposures can add up if someone eats food containing glyphosate every day.”
Indeed, few people, and children in particular, eat only a single serving of a single food containing glyphosate on any given day, and when just about every food on the market is contaminated with glyphosate, how can anyone claim children are consuming safe or negligible levels?
Urine output of glyphosate shot up by more than 1,200 percent between 1993 and 2016,18 so clearly glyphosate exposure is a growing problem. Even if there were limited danger from glyphosate, no organization or agency is looking at the synergistic effects of combining it with other chemicals in our food supply, including other pesticides.
It’s also important to realize there’s no known safe limit for any pesticide for children. There is no published scientific evidence to demonstrate any level of safety for children. There are, however, studies indicating that there really is no level at which pesticides are safe for children since:
Chemicals in parts per trillion amounts can have an effect on fetal development, and may affect a child all through puberty and beyond
Children’s detoxification pathways are not yet fully developed. They do not have the detoxification enzymes in their livers that adults have, so their ability to eliminate even tiny amounts of pesticides and other harmful chemicals is limited
More Glyphosate Than Vitamin D or B12 in Some Breakfast Products
What’s more, EWG makes a really compelling comparison in this last report:19
“[W]hen EWG scientists compared the amounts of added vitamins and nutrients to the amount of glyphosate contamination in Honey Nut Cheerios, we discovered that if pesticide contamination were required on ingredient labels, glyphosate would be listed above vitamins D and B12.”
This is an explosive conclusion. These kinds of breakfast cereals are marketed as “good nutrition,” in part due to being fortified with important nutrients, yet they contain higher amounts of toxic glyphosate than added vitamins! That’s nothing short of crazy.
Oats Would Have Virtually No Glyphosate Residues if Farmers Quit Using the Chemical as a Preharvest Drying Agent
One key point to realize here is that there’s no good reason for this massive glyphosate contamination. While genetically engineered Roundup-ready crops will as a rule contain glyphosate, this chemical is unnecessarily sprayed on wheat, barley and oats as a preharvest desiccant to dry the grain faster.
As noted by EWG, “In fact, the highest levels of glyphosate are found on foods treated this way, and unlike GMO corn and soybeans, these foods often make up a large part of the American diet.” Farmers do not need to use glyphosate in this way, and these kinds of test results clearly indicate that we as consumers must insist on a change.
EWG, along with nearly a dozen food companies, recently filed a petition20 with the EPA, urging the agency to prohibit the use of glyphosate as a preharvest drying agent. By eliminating glyphosate from this practice, much of this contamination simply would not occur. As noted by EWG:21
“Using glyphosate for harvesting oats is not necessary and not worth risking children’s health … Protecting children’s health from pesticides is essential, and cancer-causing chemicals do not belong in children’s meals, whether served at home, in a child care center or at school …
You can take steps to minimize hefty doses of glyphosate in foods by choosing organic. Although small amounts of glyphosate have been detected in some organic foods, every organic sample tested in our first study was well below EWG’s health benchmark.
Tell companies to step up and get glyphosate out of kids breakfast food by signing our petition … “
EWG president, Ken Cook adds, “Our message to General Mills, Quaker and other food companies is that you can take the simple step of telling your oat farmers to stop using glyphosate. You can hide behind an outdated federal standard, or you can listen to your customers and take responsibility for cleaning up your supply chain. It’s your choice.”
Novel Testing Project Reports Finding Glyphosate in Human Hair
Other glyphosate testing done by The Detox Project22 in collaboration with Kudzu Science reports finding glyphosate in human hair samples.23
Seven of the 10 hair samples contained over 66 ppb — far higher than the 3 ppb previously found in urine samples — and six of them also contained AMPA, the main metabolite of glyphosate, at 330 ppb or higher. While urine testing reveals what you’ve been exposed to in the past two to three weeks, hair testing shows your accumulated exposure over the past three to four months. Sustainable Pulse reports:24
“The Kudzu Science mass spectrometry gold standard method used for testing glyphosate, AMPA and glufosinate is fully validated, which gives these results even more significance.
The Detox Project director, Henry Rowlands, stated … ‘Even at this early stage of testing we believe it is vital to warn the public and regulators that glyphosate is being found in human hair. The levels found are surprising to everyone involved, as we have been working on urine testing with university and commercial laboratories over the past four years and we have never seen such results.’
One of the main questions now for the public, scientists, regulators and the pesticide industry, is how are such levels of the world’s most used herbicide first entering the blood stream and then ending up in our hair?”
Food Testing Strongly Suggests Glyphosate Contamination Is a Massive Problem
Aside from the tests already mentioned, a number of others have made it crystal clear that our food supply is suffering from severe glyphosate contamination. For example:
U.S. Department of Agriculture testing done in 2011 revealed glyphosate in all soybean samples tested.25
Limited testing for glyphosate done by the FDA in 2016 found glyphosate in virtually all foods tested, including wheat crackers, granola cereal, corn meal, oatmeal products and honey.26 The only food found to be free of glyphosate was broccoli. The glyphosate in corn was found to exceed tolerance levels. It was detected at 6.5 parts per million (ppm) and the legal limit is (5.0 ppm).
In 2016, tests27 conducted by the nonprofit organizations Food Democracy Now! and The Detox Project found glyphosate residues in a variety of foods including Doritos, Oreos and Stacy’s Pita Chips.
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).28
The Health Research Institute Labs (HRI Labs), an independent laboratory that tests both micronutrients and toxins found in food, is compiling data on the pervasiveness of glyphosate in the food supply. HRI has found glyphosate in Ben & Jerry’s ice cream (10 of the 11 ice cream samples contained substantial levels), orange juice, grains, legumes and beans, just to name a few. As in EWG’s tests, Quaker Oats was found to contain very high levels of glyphosate.
When Moms Across America29 used HRI Labs to test lunch food products, they found glyphosate in samples of almond milk, veggie burgers,30 hummus31 and more.
Moms Across America also tested orange juice in 201732 and 2018. This year, the glyphosate level in orange juice ranged from 2.99 ppb to 17.16 ppb depending on the brand, with Tropicana having the highest glyphosate levels of brands tested.33
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. Among their findings:
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
Organic Food Cuts Cancer Risk
Monsanto and the pesticide industry in general would like you to believe their products are harmless; if not entirely, then surely in the “trace” amounts found in food. The evidence, however, paints a different picture.
Several studies have shown organic foods contain far lower amounts of pesticide residues than conventional foods, and recent research34 found people who eat mostly organic indeed have a significantly lower risk of cancer than those who eat mostly conventional fare.
The study,35 led by French government scientists, tracked the food intake of nearly 69,000 people for four years. Those who consumed the most organic food were 25 percent less likely to develop cancer, including Non-Hodgkin lymphoma — which has been linked to glyphosate specifically — other lymphomas and postmenopausal breast cancer. According to the authors:36
“[N]atural pesticides allowed in organic farming in the European Union exhibit much lower toxic effects than the synthetic pesticides used in conventional farming … Although our findings need to be confirmed, promoting organic food consumption in the general population could be a promising preventive strategy against cancer.”
How You Can Test Your Glyphosate Level
While both the USDA’s Pesticide Data Program and the FDA measure pesticide residues in foods, neither of them include glyphosate in their testing as of yet, ostensibly because it’s too expensive and partly because glyphosate has been assumed safe (based on Monsanto’s own evidence).
The good news is you no longer need to rely on the government when it comes to glyphosate testing. HRI Labs has developed home test kits for both water and urine, so you can test your own level at any time, thereby assessing your own individual exposure.
The current threshold for HRI Labs is 0.5 ppb. If you’re below that threshold, your exposure is low and you’re unlikely to experience adverse effects. If your levels are high, you would be wise to address your diet and consider buying more organic foods.
You may also want to consider some form of detoxification protocol, and take steps to repair the damage to your gut caused by glyphosate and other agrochemicals. Chances are, if your glyphosate levels are high, you probably have a number of other pesticides in your system as well.
Fermented foods, particularly kimchi, are potent chelators of these kinds of chemicals. Taking activated charcoal after a questionable meal can help bind and excrete chemicals as well. Remember to stay well-hydrated to facilitate the removal of toxins through your liver, kidneys and skin. Using a sauna on a regular basis is also recommended to help eliminate both pesticides and heavy metals you may have accumulated.