The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) resumed glyphosate food testing this month. The news comes amid growing concerns over the safety of glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup weed killer.
Glyphosate is one of the most widely-used agricultural herbicides on the market. Since its introduction in the U.S. in 1974, over 1.6 billion kilograms of glyphosate have been applied, accounting for roughly 19 percent of estimated global use. Globally, the use of glyphosate has increased almost 15-fold since the introduction of “Roundup Ready” genetically-modified glyphosate-tolerant crops in 1996. Two-thirds of the total volume of glyphosate applied in the U.S. between 1974 and 2014 was sprayed over the last decade.
In 2015, the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) declared glyphosate a “probable human carcinogen.” The IARC report on glyphosate triggered a wave of lawsuits against Monsanto filed by individuals who allege exposure to Roundup caused them to develop non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
FDA Glyphosate Food Testing Resumes After Criticism from Government Accountability Office
The FDA is the chief regulatory agency responsible for ensuring the safety and proper labeling of foods. Last year, the FDA announced that it would perform glyphosate food testing after the agency was roundly criticized by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) in 2014 for previously failing to include glyphosate in its annual food testing programs.
According to the GAO report, the FDA “does not disclose in its annual monitoring reports that it does not test for several commonly used pesticides with an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) established tolerance (the maximum amount of a pesticide residue that is allowed to remain on or in food)—including glyphosate, the most used agricultural pesticide.”
But the FDA put glyphosate food testing on hold last November after difficulties and disagreements in adopting a standard methodology to use across the agency’s many laboratories.
At the time, a number of observers believed the agency’s decision to pump the brakes on the planned glyphosate food testing was likely political; the decision was reached after an FDA scientist found glyphosate in several samples of honey and oatmeal products, including baby food.
Nevertheless, the FDA confirmed that glyphosate food testing began, in earnest, earlier this month. In addition to testing for glyphosate, the FDA will also analyze different foods for 2,4-D and other “acid herbicides.” A number of chemical companies use a combination of 2,4-D, dicamba (another herbicide), and glyphosate to form new weed killer products. Use of the 2,4-D, dicamba and glyphosate weed killer products is expected to rise in the coming years, so testing for residues in U.S. foods will be important moving forward.
While the FDA’s decision to resume testing foods for glyphosate is encouraging, we still don’t know much about how exactly the agency plans to test foods for the chemical. According to Carey Gillam, research director of U.S. Right to Know, the FDA has been reticent to discuss the details of its glyphosate testing program.
What we do know is that testing will look to see if detectable glyphosate residues fall under the “maximum residue level” (MRL) set by EPA. Interestingly, the EPA’s MRL for glyphosate has increased over time, despite numerous studies linking glyphosate exposure to a host of serious health problems.
Other Agencies Testing Food for Glyphosate?
Like the FDA, the U.S. Department of Agriculture also intended to begin testing foods for glyphosate this year. The agency spent the last year working together with both EPA and the FDA in preparation to start testing corn syrup for glyphosate residue beginning on April 1, 2017. But the USDA abandoned the glyphosate residue testing plan, purportedly because it wasn’t an efficient use of resources.
While U.S. agencies have been reluctant to test foods for glyphosate, a number of worldwide agencies, both government and private, have conducted glyphosate food testing. In April, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency released the results of its glyphosate food testing program, in which researchers found glyphosate residue in roughly 30 percent of the foods it tested.
Private organizations like The Detox Project have also tested foods for glyphosate. In testing performed last year at an FDA registered laboratory, the Detox Project found glyphosate residue in a number of different breakfast cereals, chips, crackers, and cookies, among other products. According to the results, Cheerios, Stacy’s Simply Naked Pita Chips, Honey Nut Cheerios, and Doritos Cool Ranch Chips were found to have the highest glyphosate levels out of the 29 products that were tested.