Glyphosate in food and water
Glyphosate-based formulations are the most widely sold and used pesticides globally. Glyphosate is virtually everywhere in the food chain. As a consequence, glyphosate is regularly detected in our bodies. At the levels detected and even below, several converging lines of research in laboratory animals suggest that glyphosate-based herbicides may be endocrine disruptors and alter liver and kidney function.
Why is there glyphosate in our food?
Glyphosate-based formulations (the most common being Roundup from Bayer / Monsanto) are the most widely sold and used pesticides globally. They are used on food crops during cultivation, not only to desiccate the crop before harvest (for instance on wheat), but also more intensively during the cultivation of the 80% of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) that are modified to tolerate Roundup.
Is glyphosate just used on crops?
Glyphosate herbicides are also used in parks, gardens, along roads and railway tracks, and in cemeteries. Since glyphosate’s main mode of action in plants is absent in animals, it is considered to be one of the safest pesticides – even safer than table salt, according to Bayer / Monsanto.
Are there high levels of glyphosate in our food and water?
The presence of glyphosate residues is tolerated by most government regulators at high levels in food and tap water. After more than 30 years of a “don’t look, don’t see” policy on glyphosate’s secondary side effects, many independent studies in recent years have suggested that glyphosate has worrying health effects at levels regularly detected in food an tap water.
How much glyphosate is found in our bodies and in farm animals?
Glyphosate residues have now been found in a range of human samples. Some examples of this are below:
In 2016 urine of people across America was tested by the University of California San Francisco (UCSF), using validated LC-MS/MS methods. 93% of the urine tested by UCSF tested positive for glyphosate residues. The Detox Project assisted in the collection of these saamples.
In 2019 a unique hair testing project involving 23 members of the Japanese Parliament and organized by The Detox Project with local partners, shocked the country after it was revealed that the majority of the politicians had long-term exposure to a variety of pesticides, including glyphosate. The hair testing results were announced in the Japanese House of Representatives in early August 2019 and have led to a growing call for a change of approach to pesticides in the country.
Do studies regularly find glyphosate in our urine?
Every single study that has measured for glyphosate residues in human urine has found it.
In June 2022, the U.S Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published a massive study that showed more than 80% of urine samples drawn from children and adults in a US health study contained glyphosate, a finding scientists have called “disturbing” and “concerning”.
One of the other recent surveys , performed by Moms Across America and Sustainable Pulse, measured glyphosate levels in the urine of 85 US citizens: 17 were recruited in the streets of Washington DC; the others, volunteers among the members of Moms Across America, were spread across the country. Glyphosate was detected in 22 cases at an average concentration of 12.6 ppb. The maximum of 18.8 ppb was measured in the urine of a woman in Oregon.
Comparable levels have been detected in a survey performed on farming and non-farming families in Iowa . Glyphosate was also detected in the majority of samples, including more than 95% of the children’s urine samples (maximum of 18 ppb). In Europe, a survey by Friends of the Earth across 18 countries found glyphosate in 80 out of 182 urinary samples taken from volunteers . Another European survey by Dr. Monika Kruger showed average urinary glyphosate levels of 5.4 ppb (maximum of 40 ppb) . In this study, chronically ill humans had higher glyphosate residues in urine than healthy humans.
Why are GMO Crops a main route of exposure to glyphosate?
The cultivation of Roundup Ready GMOs has considerably increased food and feed contamination by glyphosate. Roundup Ready plants do not degrade glyphosate but tolerate it, so they accumulate Roundup residues during their growth.
What levels of glyphosate are accepted in animal feed crops by regulators?
Glyphosate has among the highest maximum residue limits for pesticides, with up to 500,000 parts per billion (ppb, see box 1) authorized in some GM feed.
What levels of glyphosate are found in farm animal feed?
A recent study on 10 batches of GM soybeans from Iowa found glyphosate at an average concentration of 11,900 ppb (maximum of 20,100 ppb) . According to Monsanto, residues levels of up to 5,600 ppb in GM soy represent “extreme levels” .
Is glyphosate dangerous for farm animals?
Since cattle are mostly fed Roundup Ready soybeans, contamination with extreme levels of glyphosate could have serious consequences on cattle health. In a study on Danish dairy cows , elevated glyphosate urinary levels have been linked to a marked increase in biomarkers indicative of damage to liver and kidney function. Another recent study found glyphosate in the organs of piglets born with birth defects . In this case, the highest concentrations were measured in lungs (0.4-80 ppb), heart (0.15-80 ppb), and kidneys (0.1-38 ppb). This strongly suggests bioaccumulation of glyphosate in internal organs, which is contrary to the common belief of rapid elimination.
Glyphosate contamination in food and water
How much glyphosate is found in tap water?
Permitted levels in tap water reach 700 ppb in USA, which is particularly high for a pesticide, and are at 10 ppb in the European Union. Among 85 tap water samples analyzed by Moms Across America and Sustainable Pulse , glyphosate was found in 35 cases at levels up to 0.3 ppb. In other tap water samples taken in the U.S. and the EU glyphosate residues were also low, which seem to rule out tap water as a major glyphosate exposure route, at least in these regions.
Which foods are high in glyphosate residues?
Besides wheat, oats and barley, Roundup and other glyphosate-based herbicides are regularly sprayed on more than 70 crops, including almonds, apples, dry edible beans, lentils, chickpeas (garbanzo beans), peas, grapes, rice, and sunflowers. Honey is also regularly contaminated.
How much glyphosate is found in our food?
Glyphosate contamination in food is very common. The U.S. FDA tested for glyphosate and AMPA (the main metabolite of glyphosate) for the first time in a small range of products in 2016, these included corn, soybeans, eggs and milk. The results showed that glyphosate was found at high but ‘legal’ levels in soybeans and corn but not in eggs or milk.
Two of the largest independent studies on glyphosate in our food supply were completed by The Detox Project in coordination with Food Democracy Now!. Both studies found glyphosate in a wide range of products being sold at U.S. grocery stores including cereal, pea protein, bread and pulses. The majority of samples that tested positive had levels between 10 ppb and 1500 ppb. Please see more details on these studies below.
Environmental Working Group (EWG) has also carried out a number of monitoring studies on the food supply in the U.S.. In 2018 they discovered unsafe levels of glyphosate in oat products including Quaker Oats. In 2019 EWG published another shocking report on glyphosate in cereals.
Elsewhere, UK government testing for glyphosate residues in bread showed frequent glyphosate contamination, sometimes exceeding 500 ppb in wholemeal bread . Analysis of 69 honey samples from different origins revealed glyphosate at unexpectedly high levels, around 64 ppb . Some samples were contaminated with 163 ppb, a concentration neurotoxic to honeybees. Another small analysis documented the presence of glyphosate in Froot Loops at a level of 120 ppb .
The above results show that the glyphosate exposure from the global food supply chain is currently massively underestimated.
How much glyphosate is found in pet food?
In a peer-reviewed study released in 2018 by Cornell University, levels of glyphosate were found in a range of pet foods.
The 18 dog and cat foods tested were all mixtures of vegetable and meat ingredients, and one product was certified GMO-free. The study found that all of the products contained glyphosate at concentrations ranging from approximately 80 to 2,000 micrograms of glyphosate per kilogram (ppb).
Glyphosate: Unsafe On Any Plate
Glyphosate was found at alarming levels in a wide range of best-selling foods across the U.S., in a testing program organized by Food Democracy Now! and The Detox Project in 2016.
The results published in this report were from the first independent glyphosate residue testing of popular American food products performed using liquid chromatography tandem mass spectrometry (LC-MS/MS), the regulatory recognized “gold standard” testing methods at an FDA registered laboratory.
This unique testing project that started in 2015, found alarming levels of glyphosate in General Mills’ Cheerios and Honey Nut Cheerios, Kellogg’s Corn Flakes, Raisin Bran and Frosted Flakes and PepsiCo’s Doritos Cool Ranch, Ritz Crackers and Stacy’s Simply Naked Pita Chips, as well as many more famous products at levels that present significant risks according to the latest independent peer-reviewed science on glyphosate.
The testing and analysis was performed by Anresco Laboratories, San Francisco, an FDA registered laboratory that has performed expert food safety testing since 1943. The laboratory found that well-known products tested for glyphosate, Original Cheerios, for example, measured levels as high as 1,125.3 ppb.
These groundbreaking findings that one of the most iconic cereals in U.S. contained levels as high as 1,125.3 ppb was a wake-up call for all Americans regarding the unacceptable levels of pesticide residues in the nation’s food. The findings were especially troubling, considering that the latest independent scientific evidence, during which a team of international scientists re-evaluated the same data previously used by regulators, calls for a much lower Acceptable Daily Intake (ADI) to be set at 0.025 mg/ kg of bodyweight per day or “12 times lower than the ADI” currently set in Europe and 70 times lower than the level currently allowed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in the United States.
The Detox Project followed up the 2016 report by working with Mamavation in 2021 on a smaller testing project on protein powders. The results were again shocking with most powders that contained pea protein being shown to contain glyphosate residues.
The Poison in Our Daily Bread
In 2022 the results of the most comprehensive glyphosate testing of food products ever conducted in the U.S. were released by The Detox Project in a report called The Poison in Our Daily Bread.
Glyphosate was discovered in a wide range of essential food products including bread, pulses and grains from top grocery stores such as Hy-Vee, Whole Foods Market, Amazon, Walmart and Target.
Of the products that were tested, a range of whole wheat breads contained the highest levels, alongside chickpeas and Quaker Oats. The worst offending products were found in Hy-Vee, Whole Foods Market and Walmart, with the products with the lowest levels being found in Natural Grocers.
In what may be a surprise to many consumers, 18 of the 26 Non-GMO labeled products tested contained glyphosate, including two of the highest five levels discovered (535 ppb and 1040 ppb respectively).
How was the testing performed?
This testing project was performed In exactly the same way as government regulators occasionally perform checks for pesticides in off-the-shelf food products; a selection of different essential foods, including bread, grains, pulses (lentils, beans, peas and chickpeas) and protein bars and shakes were purchased from top grocery stores and sent directly to an expert ISO 17025 certified third-party laboratory in California. They were then tested using gold standard mass spectrometry methods (LC-MS/MS).
The number of samples and the wide selection of essential food types tested make this the most comprehensive single glyphosate testing project ever performed in the U.S.. Similar smaller projects on specific areas of the food supply have previously shown glyphosate contamination in cereals, hummus and protein supplements, with some of the results having been reported in the New York Times.
Where is the glyphosate coming from and why is it in Non-GMO labeled foods?
This report showed the damning reality that preharvest spraying (desiccation), an off-label use of glyphosate-based weedkillers, is leading to the mass contamination of essential foods that form the base of our diet.
These alarming results also show that Bayer/Monsanto, scientists, and government regulators have long failed to understand or even explore the basic risks and level of exposure from the U.S. food supply.
Besides wheat, oats and barley, Roundup and other glyphosate-based herbicides are regularly sprayed on more than 70 crops, including almonds, apples, dry edible beans, lentils, chickpeas (garbanzo beans), peas, grapes, rice, and sunflowers.
Are the levels of glyphosate and other pesticide residues discovered in essential foods safe?
It is first important to understand how the ‘safe’ level of any toxic chemical is set. Currently the U.S. EPA sets a Reference Dose (RfD), which is known as the Acceptable Daily Intake (ADI) in Europe, by taking the lowest no observed adverse effect level (NOAEL) from animal studies and dividing it by 100.
The big problem is that both the RfD in the U.S. (1.75 mg / kg bw / day) and the ADI in the EU (0.3 mg/kg bw /day) for glyphosate have already been proven to be far too high by independent peer-reviewed studies.
In the pilot phase of the most comprehensive study ever performed on glyphosate and glyphosate-based herbicides – the Global Glyphosate Study – it was shown that glyphosate-based herbicides cause genotoxicity, alteration of the intestinal microbiome as well as reproductive and developmental effects in both male and female rats, at the U.S. RfD level. Other peer-reviewed studies have also shown change in gene function and DNA Damage at the U.S. RfD level.
This would normally mean that the EPA’s current RfD safe level should be reduced by at least 100x. However, even that may not be enough of a reduction, as in smaller non-comprehensive peer-reviewed studies, levels that are lower than 0.1 mg/kg have been shown to cause serious kidney and liver damage in rats.
Toxic effects of glyphosate based herbicides in our food and water
Despite claims that glyphosate has been widely studied by regulatory agencies and industry, little is known about the health effects of glyphosate-based herbicides at levels found in food or water. Indeed, to estimate a safe level of glyphosate for regulatory purposes, glyphosate has been tested in long-term and developmental toxicity tests in rodents.
All these tests have been performed with glyphosate alone at very high levels. However, the exposure of animals at doses ranging from around 10,000 ppb during their whole life is not relevant to conclude on the effects of exposures in the much lower dose range of 10-100 ppb.
Many pesticides are endocrine disruptors, meaning that they disrupt cell communications and exercise their toxic effects at low doses over long periods of time – even when higher doses do not have these effects. Various studies have found that glyphosate and Roundup can be endocrine disruptors at levels permitted in tap water [11,12].
Understanding the ppb unit
1 part per billion (ppb) is equivalent to 1 µg/kg or 1 µg/L of a given substance. It represents the concentration of a molecule or a mixture. For a mixture, 1 ppb corresponds to a dilution of 1 billion.
1 ppb of Roundup represents the dilution of a teaspoon of Roundup in the volume of an Olympic swimming pool. 700 µg of glyphosate dissolved in one liter of water corresponds to a concentration of 700 ppb, the level admitted in US tap water. It corresponds to one drop of Roundup in 25 liters of tap water.
The only long-term study at relevant glyphosate exposure levels
The only long-term study at environmentally relevant concentrations was performed with 0.1 ppb of Roundup diluted in drinking water of rats . The incidence of mammary tumors significantly increased in this study. Out of 10 rats treated with Roundup at 0.1 ppb, 9 developed 20 mammary tumors, whereas 5 out of 10 controls only developed 8 tumors. Hormones (Testosterone and estradiol) serum levels were also altered.
These results are corroborated by cellular endocrine disturbances found in human mammary cells . Glyphosate was able to replace estrogen and to promote the growth of human mammary cells at around 0.1 ppb. In another study at higher doses, a maternal exposure to a glyphosate-based herbicide during pregnancy was able to disrupt rat pup development .
In the above-cited cases, as for other endocrine disruptors, toxic effects do not always increase in proportion to the dose. In these cases, and contrary to the common industry claim, the dose does not make the poison. These effects are thus not likely to be detected in regulatory tests using only high levels of glyphosate, as has happened in the past for the plastics chemical bisphenol A and other endocrine disruptors .
Roundup poses a risk to kidneys and liver
Converging lines of evidence have demonstrated that Roundup residues pose a risk to the kidneys and the liver. In the study performed by Professor Gilles-Eric Séralini, rats treated with 0.1 ppb of Roundup presented an increased rate of severe chronic kidney disease . This may also explain observed increases in the frequency of chronic kidney disease among farmers . The liver was also affected; rats treated with 0.1 ppb Roundup presented more liver abnormalities such as congestion or necrotic (dead) areas .
In another study , Wistar rats were exposed during 30 or 90 days to the highest level (700 ppb) of glyphosate allowed in water for human consumption in USA. While no tissue changes were detected in the study, changes in the biochemistry indicated stress at the level of the kidneys and the liver. All these effects are detected well below regulatory thresholds, in a range of concentrations corresponding to potential human exposures to glyphosate-based herbicide residues.
Commercial formulations of glyphosate herb contain other toxicants
Glyphosate is never used alone, but in commercial formulations containing additional toxic agents called adjuvants. They are used to increase glyphosate’s toxicity and to allow its penetration into plants. They are in some cases more toxic than glyphosate , but they are never included in glyphosate long-term toxicity tests and are considered to be inert, like water. They constitute a “black hole” in pesticide toxicology, because they are often kept secret by companies, are never measured in the environment, and are not included in the establishment of pesticide acceptable daily intakes.
How can you avoid glyphosate in food?
There are two certifications that you should look out for if you want to avoid glyphosate in your food and to protect the environment from the effects of glyphosate herbicide use; Organic and Glyphosate Residue Free.
What is organic certification?
Organic certification is a certification process for producers of organic food and other organic agricultural products, in the European Union more commonly known as ecological or biological products. In general, any business directly involved in food production can be certified, including seed suppliers, farmers, food processors, retailers and restaurants. A lesser known counterpart is certification for organic textiles (or organic clothing) that includes certification of textile products made from organically grown fibres.
Requirements vary from country to country, and generally involve a set of production standards for growing, storage, processing, packaging and shipping that include:
- avoidance of synthetic chemical inputs (e.g. fertilizer, pesticides, antibiotics, food additives), irradiation, and the use of sewage sludge;
- avoidance of genetically modified seed;
- use of farmland that has been free from prohibited chemical inputs for a number of years (often, three or more);
- for livestock, adhering to specific requirements for feed, housing, and breeding;
- keeping detailed written production and sales records (audit trail);
- maintaining strict physical separation of organic products from non-certified products;
- undergoing periodic on-site inspections.
In some countries, certification is overseen by the government, and commercial use of the term organic is legally restricted.
Certified organic foods are not necessarily glyphosate-free, as there can be occasional contamination from glyphosate spraying from neighboring non-organic farms or fraudulent behavior in supply chains, which involves swapping out organic for non-organic ingredients. In most organic supply chains there is not enough glyphosate testing to protect consumers fully and final product testing is not generally required.
What is Glyphosate Residue Free certification?
Glyphosate Residue Free certification verifies that a food or supplement product does not contain the World’s most used herbicide – glyphosate.
Glyphosate Residue Free certification is growing fast in the U.S. and around the world and you can find the brands and the products that are already certified here.
A third party ISO 17025 accredited laboratory tests the certified products to make sure they do not contain glyphosate residues. Certified products must have no glyphosate residues down to government-recognized limits of detection (LODs) for food, commodity and supplement samples (usually 0.01 ppm / 10 ppb), and lower levels than default government Maximum Residue Limits (MRLs) in the European Union and Japan, which are the most stringent in the world.
What can be certified?:
- Single Ingredients from Suppliers
- Single-Ingredient Food and Supplement Products (products sold to consumers)
- Multi-Ingredient Food and Supplement Products (products sold to consumers)
How does Glyphosate Residue Free compare to USDA Organic or Non-GMO Project certification?
Organic, Non-GMO Project and Glyphosate Residue Free are complementary certifications. However, it is important to understand the following: a) USDA Organic certification does not ensure glyphosate residue free food due to poor supply chain testing standards. USDA Organic certification is also not based on testing of the final food product for toxic chemicals – consumers have been asking for final food product testing for many years and Glyphosate Residue Free certification is providing this! b) Non-GMO Project certification – tests for GMOs in the supply chain but does not test for toxic chemicals. Toxic chemicals are more important to consumers than GMOs are according to almost all consumer polls.
Glyphosate Residue Free also has a lower glyphosate residue limit than USDA Organic certification in some cases. USDA Organic certification has a glyphosate residue maximum limit of 5% of the EPA or FDA tolerance for glyphosate and all other pesticides – in some cases this is relatively high, e.g.: Sugarcane (mollasses): USDA Organic (maximum 1,500 ppb) , Glyphosate Residue Free (laboratory LOD usually 10 ppb) Quinoa (grain): USDA Organic (maximum 250 ppb) , Glyphosate Residue Free (laboratory LOD usually 10 ppb)
Who set up Glyphosate Residue Free certification?
The Detox Project, a research and certification platform that supports transparency in the food and supplement industries on the subject of toxic chemicals, set up Glyphosate Residue Free certification with the hope of educating more people about the dangers of the world’s most used weedkiller entering the food supply.
Henry Rowlands, Director of The Detox Project, recently stated “it is encouraging to see that consumers are becoming more aware of the harm that environmental toxins such as glyphosate can cause to themselves and their families. We support a toxic free future for our children and this can only be reached through mass public awareness to protect public health.
“Food and supplement brands play a vital role in keeping consumers safe from toxic chemicals. The unsustainable industrial agricultural system, which has been poisoning the planet for so many decades, Is based on one single chemical – glyphosate. It is about time that we move towards a more regenerative future with glyphosate-based weedkillers left in the past, where they belong,” Rowlands concluded.
Is Glyphosate Residue Free Certification Growing?
The Glyphosate Residue Free market grew by a massive 170% year on year, with an increase of market size from $197 Million to $533 Million.
The Detox Project released their latest data on the Glyphosate Residue Free certification market, after reviewing Q1 2021 data provided by their exclusive data partners SPINS.
SPINS, which is the leading provider of data and insights for the natural, organic and specialty products industry, revealed through their data that the Glyphosate Residue Free certification market has reached USD $533 Million, an increase of 170% YoY.
Glyphosate Residue Free certification is a relatively new seal, having been launched by The Detox Project in 2017. Since its introduction it has caught the attention of brands and consumers alike, with a concentration of interest in the U.S. and more recently also internationally.
Linkage Research & Consulting also recently revealed, in a large-scale Internet-based study, that consumer recognition of Glyphosate Residue Free certification has surged. It is now one of the fastest growing certifications in North America.
Brands such as Oatly, MegaFood, Chosen Foods, Califia Farms, Chobani, Wedderspoon, Puris and Once Upon a Farm are amongst the 100+ brands that have certified some or all of their products as Glyphosate Residue Free. The American e-commerce membership-based retailer Thrive Market has also thrown its support behind the certification.
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Disclaimer: The Detox Project does not provide medical advice or diagnostics, so the information on this site is not in any way suggesting that eating an organic diet will certainly lower the level of glyphosate in your body, nor is The Detox Project suggesting that any health condition you may have will improve if you manage to lower the glyphosate level in your body.